HARARE: Members of Zimbabwe’s defeated opposition party were appearing in court Saturday, accused of staging violent protests against alleged rigging in this week’s historic elections.
The appearance by 24 people arrested in a police raid at opposition MDC headquarters comes a day after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of Zimbabwe’s first polls since autocrat Robert Mugabe was ousted last year.
At least six people died after troops in the capital Harare opened fire on demonstrators on Wednesday, alleging that Mnangagwa had stolen the election from MDC leader Nelson Chamisa.
The crackdown sparked an international outcry, raising grim memories of the violence that marred polls under Mugabe’s iron-fisted rule.
The 16 men and eight women appearing in court are accused of smashing windows at offices of the ruling ZANU-PF party during the protests, throwing stones and setting fire to vehicles.
Mnangagwa has accused the opposition of fomenting the unrest, but said on Friday that he would set up an independent commission to investigate the killings.
“No democratic process is flawless,” Mnangagwa said, but he insisted Monday’s election was “free, fair and credible”, a far cry from the fraud-tainted polls of the Mugabe era.
He also called for unity, telling Chamisa: “You have a crucial role to play in Zimbabwe’s present and in its unfolding future.”
Chamisa, a 40-year-old pastor and lawyer, has urged his supporters to refrain from violence as he prepares to challenge the results in court.
“We won but they declared the opposite. You voted but they cheated,” he said on Twitter on Saturday.
Mnangagwa, 75, has said Chamisa is free to mount a legal challenge, though such a move appears to have little chance of changing the result.
Mnangagwa won 50.8 percent against Chamisa’s 44.3 percent, according to the Zimbabwe Election Commission — just scraping over the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a presidential run-off.
A former right-hand man to Mugabe, Mnangagwa was chosen to lead ZANU-PF after the brief military intervention last November that ousted him after 37 years in power.
Mnangagwa was allegedly involved in state violence during the 2008 elections when the opposition pulled out of the run-off, following the deaths of at least 200 supporters in attacks.
He has hailed the first post-Mugabe polls as a “new beginning” and pledged to represent all Zimbabweans, including those who did not vote for him.
But rights groups have expressed concern that heavy-handed policing to prevent more post-election protests indicate how he intends to govern.
Amnesty International said more than 60 people had been “arbitrarily arrested” in a post-election clampdown on the opposition.
Residents said they had seen troops beating up civilians in Chitungwiza, a sprawling satellite town south of Harare, on Friday night.
“I don’t even know why they were beating those people,” said Christine, a retailer of copper products in Harare who witnessed the beatings.
“It was the soldiers, they are still out there. We are even scared of going out.”