Thousands in Zimbabwe denounce 'evil' Western sanctions

People march in Harare calling on US, EU to lift sanctions on President Emmerson Mnangagwa and other top officials.
Zimbabweans protest over sanctions that the government blames for the country's worsening economic problems. / AP

Thousands of Zimbabweans have rallied in support of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's call on the United States and the European Union to lift sanctions imposed against him and dozens of other officials over alleged human rights abuses and electoral fraud.

Friday's rally in Harare, was part of a government-organized day of action to denounce Western sanctions, which Mnangagwa says have "crippled" Zimbabwe's development. 

He declared Friday a public holiday, and government supporters from across the country were bussed into the capital early in the morning for a day-long festival, including a march, a football match between Zimbabwe's most popular clubs and a concert. 

Members of Zimbabwe's opposition dismissed the protests as a propaganda exercise designed to distract from the government's handling of the crisis-ridden economy.

Clad in white t-shirts, Mnangagwa's supporters sang songs and chanted "down with sanctions" as they kicked off the "Anti-Sanctions Day" with a rally from the Robert Mugabe square to the national sports stadium, a five-kilometer (three-mile) walk.

The demonstrators, who were given fried chicken, potato chips and carbonated drinks for attending, carried placards describing the Western measures as "evil" and "weapon of mass destruction to mankind". 

In 2001, the US imposed financial and travel sanctions against 85 people including Mnangagwa and other ruling ZANU-PF party members, as well as the late former President Robert Mugabe. The measures were in response to the Mugabe government's crackdown on political opponents as well as election-related violence. Entities owned by targeted individuals were also sanctioned. 

Those measures remain in place despite Mugabe's resignation in 2017 and Mnangagwa's election the following year. Officials in Washington cited Zimbabwe's failure to change laws curbing protests and media freedom. EU sanctions include targeted asset freezes and travel bans. 

During a long-winded speech, Mnangagwa blamed the sanctions for Zimbabwe's economic crisis, which is characterized by high inflation and an acute shortage of foreign currency. 

"The continued judgment setting of Utopian standards for Zimbabwe are callous, vindictive and should not be allowed to continue. We say enough is enough," he told a cheering crowd at the stadium.

His supporters agreed. 

Al Jazeera

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