MARONDERA – Thousands of opposition supporters rallied in Zimbabwe Saturday in defiance of a court ban, two weeks ahead of sensitive by-elections.
Dressed in their yellow party colours, the crowd gathered in a stadium in Marondera, 70 kilometres (43 miles) east of Harare.
They came to hear an address by the leader of the Citizens Coalition For Change party, Nelson Chamisa.
Chamisa is the leading rival to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose ZANU-PF party has ruled since independence in 1980.
General elections are due in 2023. The by-elections are seen as a crucial pre-electoral test.
Chamisa’s supporters have complained of growing repression by police.
A court banned Saturday’s rally on the grounds that organisers had not given long enough notice.
Unrest at an opposition rally last month left one person dead and 22 injured.
Chamisa’s arrival drew wild cheers as police struggled to control the swelling crowd.
Chamisa accused the state of clamping down on his campaign.
“We are here for a peaceful gathering. We applied and that is what we are here for. There is no justification for their behaviour,” Chamisa told AFP.
Having failed to overturn the ban on the rally, he called on supporters to go home.
“I do not want politics of bloodshed, that is why I came here to address you. I do not want you to be hurt,” he said.
“What they don’t know is that we have won already.”
Hundreds of armed riot police then dispersed the crowd without incident.
Mnangagwa came to power in 2017 after the death of longtime ruler Robert Mugabe. He promised reforms but Zimbabwe remains stricken by economic crisis.
Over the past two weeks Zimbabwe has suffered a spate of political violence.
It came after the country’s vice president likened the opposition to lice which should be “crushed”.