Harare – Zimbabwe’s Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the army was deployed on the streets of Harare on Wednesday to disperse a violent crowd and to restore “peace and tranquility.”
“The presence of the army is not to intimidate people but to ensure that law and order is maintained.
“They are there to assist the police,” Ziyambi said in an interview broadcast on eNCA television.
“They are there as a people’s army to ensure that peace and security prevails.”
Ziyambi added that he had not heard whether people were injured by the army.
However, automatic gunfire crackled in the streets of Zimbabwe’s capital on Wednesday as soldiers stepped in to disperse protesters, who clashed with police after the main opposition leader accused the ruling party of trying to rig the country’s election.
At least one person was shot dead by the soldiers near a bus rank, witnesses at the scene said.
EU observers questioned the conduct of the presidential and parliamentary poll, Zimbabwe’s first since Robert Mugabe was forced to resign following a de facto coup in November after nearly 40 years in power.
The observers expressed concern about delays in releasing the results of the presidential contest.
The leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Nelson Chamisa, said on Twitter he had won the “popular vote” in Monday’s election, in which he challenged Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa from the ruling ZANU-PF party.
Mnangagwa also took to Twitter, calling for calm and urging patience before the results were announced.
Opposition supporters burned tyres in the centre of Harare, blocking some streets and engaging in running battles with police, who fired water cannon to disperse the protesters.
Soldiers then arrived at the scene, jumping out of several armored personnel carriers. Gunfire was heard and an army helicopter flew in the skies above Harare, witnesses said.
The electoral commission had said it would start announcing results for the presidential race from 10.30 GMT but election officials said they would announce the results from Thursday.
“I was making a peaceful protest. I was beaten by soldiers,” Norest Kemvo, who had gashes to his face and right hand.
“This is our government. This is exactly why we wanted change. They are stealing our election.”
Another protester, Colbert Mugwenhi said: “We had no weapons. Why are the army here beating us? shooting us? This is not an election it is a disgrace on our country.”
Zimbabwe was once one of Africa’s most promising economies but under Mugabe’s rule became tainted by corruption, mismanagement and diplomatic isolation.
Its population of 13 million is struggling amid shortages of foreign currency, unemployment above 80 per cent and lack of foreign investment.
Voters traditionally pick a presidential candidate based on their party affiliation and the trend in the parliamentary election was expected to continue when results for the president are announced this week.