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Zimbabwean riot police disperese opposition press conference

Police disperse journalists who had gathered to hear opposition leader speak publicly for the first time since his election loss.

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Zimbabwean riot police have broken up a press conference in Harare due to be addressed by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, hours after the incumbent president Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of the country’s disputed election.

Scores of international and local journalists had gathered in the gardens of the Bronte hotel in the centre of the capital to hear Chamisa discuss his future. It was to be his first public appearance since 18 of his supporters were detained at his party’s headquarters on Thursday afternoon.

As journalists including the Guardian waited for Chamisa’s arrival shortly after 2pm, about 30 riot police, backed up by a truck equipped with water cannon, arrived at the hotel, entered, and ordered people to disperse. The police, in full riot gear equipped with batons, headgear and shields, scattered the journalists and the hotel’s guests.

The hotel is also the base of an election observer delegation from the Commonwealth countries. They were also told to leave.

A senior officer on the scene was unable to give an explanation for the raid, which was broadcast live on dozens of local and international TV networks.

About half an hour later, the information minister, S K Moyo, arrived and told journalists to return to the press conference, which he said was going ahead.

Stephen Chan, professor of world politics at the University of London and an expert on Zimbabwe, was staying in the hotel. “The government is clearly divided and one half has a stormtrooper mentality,” he said. “This kind of action is so clumsy it beggars belief.”

Officials from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced early on Friday that Mnangagwa had received 2.46m votes, or 50.8% of the 4.8m votes cast. Chamisa, the candidate of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC), won 2.14m votes or 44.3%, the ZEC said. Mnangagwa needed to win by more than 50% to avoid a runoff vote.

On Wednesday Zimbabwe’s authorities invoked a strict security act that allows them to ban public gatherings, after the military broke up opposition protests in the capital. Six people were killed.

Friday’s images will reenforce fears that Mnangagwa’s victory heralds further repression in the impoverished former British colony, and that hopes of reform after the ousting of Robert Mugabe in November were misplaced.

Mnangagwa, 75, was a close aide of Mugabe, the 94-year-old autocrat who ruled for 37 years, and was implicated in atrocities committed under his rule.

Denford Halimni, a human rights lawyers who was at the scene, said: “They just came and were quite threatening. They broke up a lawful gathering without a court order, on private property. It’s completely illegal.”

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