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Zimbabwe court denies bail to 58 after anti-Mugabe protests

A man wears a hat with old Zimbabwean dollar notes during demonstrations in Harare, Wednesday, August, 3 2016. Zimbabwean police have fired teargas and water cannons to break up anti government protests in the capital Harare.Police beat up several journalists covering the protests Wednesday, smashing a video camera and attacking a journalists car, breaking windows and taking a laptop(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Harare – A Zimbabwean court denied bail on Friday to 58 people arrested during protests last week against President Robert Mugabe, who has vowed to crack down on a surge of anti-government dissent.

The court freed another 11 people on $50 bail each, including security guards picked up from their work, bystanders and a journalist.

“In respect of all the others, bail is refused,” Harare magistrate Tendai Mahwe said, concluding a nearly week-long hearing.

Last Friday, riot police fired tear gas, beat up several people and blocked off the site of the opposition demonstration in the capital.

Protesters fought back, throwing stones at police while some set tyres ablaze and pulled down the sign for a street named after Mugabe.

Friday’s demonstration – which had been authorised by a court – was to demand electoral reform before 2018 when Mugabe, 92, plans to stand for re-election.

Zimbabwe has seen a mounting tide of violent protests, with demonstrators calling for the resignation of the veteran leader, who took power when Zimbabwe won independence in 1980.

Promise Mkwananzi, leader of the Tajamuka (“We are agitated”) protest group, was also arrested at Friday’s protests and denied bail earlier this week when he appeared in court on public violence charges.

Authorities on Thursday imposed a two-week ban on protests in Harare.

Opposition parties led by Movement for Democratic Change chief Morgan Tsvangirai and former vice-president Joice Mujuru had planned to gather in the city on Friday for a march.

Since 2000, the country has endured an economic crisis that has now caused food and cash shortages, with the government struggling to pay civil servants and the military.

On Wednesday, a call for a general strike was largely ignored, with the opposition blaming the poor response on intimidation by security forces which have been deployed in many towns.

Magistrate Mahwe criticised police for arresting a 68-year-old man who was granted bail on Friday.

“The court struggles to imagine how such a man of advanced age participates in violence,” Mahwe said.

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