Police battle rioters in Zimbabwe's capital

HARARE: Police in Zimbabwe's capital on Monday fired tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to quell rioting by taxi and minibus drivers protesting what they describe as police harassment.

An Associated Press photographer saw protesters severely beating two police officers with sticks, then taking their uniforms and helmets and wearing them.

The drivers blocked roads leading into the center of Harare, forcing many people to walk up to 6 miles (10 kilometres) to get to work. Rioters threw stones at police and vehicles, and some children on their way to school were caught up in the chaos.

The drivers' grievances stem from anger over numerous roadblocks that police sometimes set up in city streets, which drivers allege are to demand bribes. Police recently promised to reduce the number of roadblocks after complaints from parliamentarians, tourism operators and others.

Such brazen acts of defiance and clashes with the police are not common in Zimbabwe, although the government deployed the army against 1998 riots over soaring food prices. President Robert Mugabe, 92, has ruled the southern African country since independence from white minority rule in 1980, scoffing at frequent allegations of human rights violations.

Frustrations over rapidly deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe, compounded by dissatisfaction over alleged government corruption and incompetence, have resulted in near-daily protests in recent weeks. On Friday, protestors burned a warehouse at Beitbridge, a busy border post between Zimbabwe and South Africa, over a Zimbabwean decision to ban a wide range of imports.

Seventeen people appeared in court on Sunday over the Beitbridge protests and were charged with public violence.