Zimbabweans said they were unable to access social media Tuesday after protests erupted over a sharp increase in fuel prices was announced by the government.
Users said Whatsapp, Facebook and other internet messaging services were inaccessible and journalists using VPN internet connections early Tuesday said they lost those connections later in the day. CNN has contacted Zimbabwe’s government for comment on the apparent shutdown, but did not immediately receive a response.
On Monday security forces using tear gas battled protesters in the country’s capital, Harare, and in the southwestern city of Bulawayo. The protests began after President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced a dramatic increase in fuel prices. Mnangagwa said the decision was meant to ease the impact of an ongoing fuel shortage.
Diesel is now being sold at $3.11 per liter, while the price of gasoline has risen to $3.33, more than doubling overnight from $1.35 per liter.
Mnangagwa said the pricing decision was taken to combat the “current shortfall” in the fuel market. Hundreds of demonstrators shouted and threw stones at police officers as they marched towards the Bulawayo High Court after Monday’s announcement.
Zimbabwe’s national security minister, Owen Ncube, said Monday that a number of people had died during the protests, and blamed the violence on NGOs and activists who support the opposition MDC Alliance.
But that group said its headquarters in Harare had been set on fire by angry protesters. The blaze caused some damage to the front of the building.
Zimbabwean police on Tuesday said they had arrested protesters after they barricaded roads and burned tires in Harare. Authorities did not give a number of arrests, but the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said around 200 protesters were being held.
Protests continue for second day
Supermarkets and shops that closed Monday remained shut Tuesday morning after reports of looting. Workers and residents were stranded as public transport was suspended. Most schools in the city were closed. Students have been told not to go back until calm is restored.
Unrest continued Tuesday and police fired tear gas to disperse protestors in Warren Park – one of the townships southwest of Harare.
The internet outage did not prevent some Zimbabweans from sharing their frustrations on social media using the hashtag #ZimbabweShutDown on Twitter. They claim Mnangagwa’s administration has plunged the country’s economy into further chaos after inheriting a crisis from former President Robert Mugabe.
Cash shortages have crippled Zimbabwe’s economy. It abandoned its currency, the Zimbabwean dollar, in 2009 after hyperinflation rendered it worthless. The country has since adopted multiple currencies.
Mnangagwa, who is championing efforts to attract foreign investment to Zimbabwe’s ailing economy, is currently on a trip to Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Azerbaijan. He is scheduled to return home after attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, later this month.
CNN’s David McKenzie and Brent Swails contributed to this report.