Zimbabwe's opposition vows protests over economic crisis

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HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) Zimbabwe's main opposition Wednesday said it will roll out protests starting this week to try to force President Emmerson Mnangagwa to set up a transitional authority, even as the government warned against such action and a rights organization reported an escalation in abuses.

Spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change party Daniel Molokele said on Wednesday that the party has mobilized its supporters to protest on the streets in the capital, Harare, on Friday. The protests will spread to other cities next week, he said.

"Every Zimbabwean will be marching to end this suffering until we achieve a legitimate people's government that will begin to address the serious challenges facing the country," Molokele told a press conference. "Until that is achieved, we will not rest and we will continue to exercise our democratic right to demonstrate peacefully."

He said the transitional government demanded by the opposition should address Zimbabwe's deepening economic woes and ensure future credible elections following decades of disputed polls, the latest being last year's July election that kept Mnangagwa in power.

Mnangagwa, 77, a longtime enforcer for former repressive ruler Robert Mugabe, promised sweeping political and economic reforms as part of a "new dawn" after taking power with the help of the military in November, 2017.

However, as Zimbabwe's economic situation deteriorated and opposition to his rule intensified, Mnangagwa's government has increasingly resorted to what critics say are strong-arm tactics. On Wednesday, the U.S embassy in Harare expressed concern over "renewed reports of abductions and assault of civil society members and opposition party members ... Harassment and intimidation have no place in a democratic and pluralistic society."

This followed reports by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights that some activists were abducted from their homes by unknown people and tortured over the planned Friday protest.

Government spokesman Nick Mangwana rejected allegations that the government was behind the abductions, while Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said Zimbabweans should stay away from the planned protests.

"Government calls on all progressive Zimbabweans to desist from being used by negative forces to destabilize their country as this will only prolong the hardships," she said at a press conference Wednesday, urging dialogue "and other forms of constructive engagement."

Violence rocked earlier protests in August last year and January this year, resulting in several deaths when the military intervened.

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