Dozens injured in clashes in Beira

Dozens of people were injured on Saturday afternoon in the central Mozambican city of Beira, as the campaign for the municipal elections, scheduled for Wednesday, drew to an unexpectedly bloody close.

The ruling Frelimo Party and the opposition Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) are blaming each other for the clashes. But two facts seem beyond doubt: a unit of the riot police (FIR) opened fire with rubber bullets and tear gas against a large MDM rally in the Beira neighbourhood of Munhava, and a crowd of angry MDM supporters attacked the nearby Frelimo offices, injuring several Frelimo members, including the Frelimo candidate for mayor of Beira, Jaime Neto.

Piecing the eye-witness accounts together, it seems that the FIR tried to clear a path through the MDM crowd for a Frelimo parade, led by the Party’s general secretary Filipe Paunde. Exactly who sparked off the ensuing violence is a matter of bitter dispute. What is not in dispute is that chaotic scenes ensued, as the crowd, which had gathered to listen to the MDM leader, and mayor of Beira, Daviz Simango, scattered in disarray.

One election observer, Elisabete Azevedo-Hartman, from the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA), interviewed by the Portuguese news agency Lusa, said “at 16,00, while we were observing the closing rally of the MDM campaign in Beira, shots and disturbances began and the police fired tear gas. Even we were caught by the gas. The people ran in panic. I don’t have official data, but I think there could have been deaths provoked by the despair of hundreds of people running away”.

“We hid under the truck that was being used as a stage”, she continued, “and later we fled on foot. With my eyes reddened, and weeping from the gas, and in the midst of the confusion, I was helped by people who were in a worse condition than me. A group of elderly women used water to relieve my eyes. They only had one small bowl, but even so, they insisted on washing me, and when we left they decided to give us a bottle of what little water they had”.

There are reports that Daviz Simango himself fainted because of the gas and to be helped to leave the field. His son is said to be among the injured.

According to one of AIM’s sources, five vehicles were destroyed. Two belonged to MDM supporters, but the other three were attacked by the MDM crowd because they bore Frelimo posters.

A crowd attempted to storm the nearby Frelimo office. During the clashes Jaime Neto was injured. The wounded Frelimo candidate, still wearing his bloodied shirt, told the independent television station STV that he had been attacked by somebody wielding a club, and had been saved from worse injuries by other Frelimo members.

He claimed that the violence had been staged by the MDM because it feared it would lose the Wednesday vote. He pledged that he would continue his campaign on Sunday, the last day of the election campaign.

By early Saturday evening, 26 people had been treated at Beira Central Hospital, either because they had been hit by stones or because they had inhaled tear gas. Hospital spokesperson Orlando Jamal could not confirm claims that up to three people had died in the clashes.

Post published in: Africa News

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