Protesters clash with riot police in Zimbabwe capital Harare

Riot police carry out arrests during protests in Harare Credit: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Zimbabwean riot police have clashed with hundreds of anti-government protesters in the capital Harare.

Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd at Africa Unity Square but many protesters moved into nearby streets.

Zimbabwe’s High Court earlier upheld a police ban on the opposition demonstration.

The court rejected the application from the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, to declare the planned protest action to be legal.

Police and government officials warned that the demonstration would be illegal and protesters would “rot in jail”.

The main opposition Movement For Democratic Change party organised the protests Credit: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

To avoid any possible trouble, many residents avoided going out.

Many shops were closed and Harare’s streets were unusually quiet on Friday morning.

The opposition party had planned what it said would be a peaceful protest to press President Emmerson Mnangagwa to set up a transitional authority to address economic problems and organise credible elections.

The protests will spread to other cities next week, the opposition said.

Zimbabwe’s economic turmoil with inflation at 175%, widespread power cuts lasting up to 19 hours a day and shortages of water are blamed for the rising political tensions.

From the hope that swept across the country with the forced resignation of repressive ruler Robert Mugabe in November 2017, the nation has returned to widespread resentment and fear, according to government critics and residents.

Six anti-government activists were abducted and tortured this week ahead of the protests, according to human rights groups.

Zimbabwe’s president urged the opposition to engage in dialogue, but at the same time his government pushed parliament to quickly adopt new security legislation criticised as repressive.

To discourage the protests teams of police officers searched vehicles at checkpoints on roads leading into the city.

Police said the protests are likely to be violent, and warned people to stay away.

“Do not take part, you will rot in jail,” shouted police officers through megaphones on Thursday in central Harare and some residential areas.

A riot police officers kicks out at a man in Harare. Credit: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Mr Mnangagwa, 77, came to power with promises of sweeping political and economic reforms.

But now his government is widely viewed as an extension of Mr Mugabe’s economic mismanagement and even more heavy-handed on security, according to human rights groups.

In addition to the debilitating shortages of power and water, about a third of Zimbabwe’s 15 million people are in dire need of food aid, according to aid agencies.

Amnesty International has accused Mr Mnangagwa’s administration of “using some of the brutal tactics seen under the government of Robert Mugabe”, said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for southern Africa.

“Instead of listening to protesters’ concerns about the economy, the authorities have used torture and abduction to crush dissent and instil fear.”