Security forces in Zimbabwe have blamed recent violence against protesters – including assault, robbery and murder – on “rogue elements” who had stolen army uniforms.
On Saturday, Charity Charamba, spokeswoman for the Zimbabwe Republic Police, said some of the army uniforms worn by criminals were stolen “during the recent riots in Epworth and Chegutu.”
Three days of violent and deadly protests erupted last week after President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced a 150% increase in fuel prices, which he said was meant to ease the impact of months of fuel shortages.
On Wednesday security forces shot five people dead and wounded another 25 as they battled demonstrators in Harare. Human rights organizations blamed the police and the army for the violence.
Asked Saturday if the “rogue elements” had also stolen guns and army vehicles, Charamba declined to answer, telling reporters she would “answer your questions in due course.”
Some Zimbabweans are calling for additional protests next week, despite the violence.
Army Gen. Overson Mugwisi told reporters Saturday that police and military forces were prepared for the next wave of protests.
Security has been put in place so “members of the public and businesses (can) go about doing their business,” Mugwisi said.
“The Zimbabwe Defense Forces and security services remain committed to the provision of safety and security to all members of the public,” Mugwisi added. “In the same vein, we would want to warn those bent on causing mayhem that the law will be applied without fear or favor”
Zimbabweans spent most of Friday without access to social media after the government ordered the country’s biggest mobile operator to shut down service. A spokesman for President Mnangagwa said Saturday the step was taken to limit access to social media sites like WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook.
“The internet was a tool that was used to coordinate the violence,” said spokesman George Charamba. “Naturally, when you are reacting to a conspiracy of that nature, you ensure that society is protected. There is no way that you expect us to sacrifice a national good for the sake of the internet.”
Networks were restored after several hours, but social media platforms were still blocked, according to a notice from Econet Wireless to its customers.
More than 600 people who had been arrested were denied bail when they appeared in court on Friday, per the group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, which represented the defendants.
CNN’s Columbus S. Mavhunga reported from Harare, while Alaa Elassar and Dakin Andone reported and wrote this story in Atlanta. CNN’s Bukola Adebayo and Hamdi Alkhshali contributed to this report.