Probe decries Zimbabwe army's deadly post-vote crackdown

HARARE (Reuters) - The Zimbabwean military’s use of live bullets to quell post-election violence in the summer was “disproportionate and unjustified”, according to an inquiry released on Tuesday.

Six protesters and bystanders died and dozens were injured in violence after delays in announcing results that made Emmerson Mnangagwa the first elected head of state since Robert Mugabe’s removal from power last year.

Most Zimbabweans had hoped the July 30 vote would end the country’s pariah status and help usher in an economic recovery. Instead, it plunged Zimbabwe into turmoil reminiscent of contested votes during Mugabe’s 37 years of rule.

An investigation found the deployment of the military was legal but that soldiers should have operated under police command, which was impeded by the sudden surge of trouble.

“The use of live ammunition directed at people, especially when they were fleeing, was clearly unjustified and disproportionate,” said the report, extracts of which Mnangagwa read to reporters.

“The commission’s finding on a balance of probabilities from all the evidence received is that the deaths of these six people and injuries sustained by the 35 others arose from the actions of the military and the police.”

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) immediately dismissed the report, saying Mnangagwa’s government was trying to “whitewash” the army’s actions.

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“Our view is that they are trying to whitewash the August 1 event by making a false equivalence between the demonstrators and those who were shooting unarmed protesters using bullets and guns,” MDC spokesman Jacob Mafume said.

The inquiry, led by former South African president Kgalema Motlante, accused some MDC leaders of enflaming tensions around the election and fomenting protests that it said were pre-planned.

Soldiers unjustifiably used whips and rifle butts against the protesters, the report also said. It urged the military and police to hold to account any members who may have failed to follow the chain of command when quelling the protests.

There have been no arrests for the deaths.

Mnangagwa has previously blamed the MDC for the post-election violence. The MDC has said its hands are clean.

Mnangagwa said he would make a decision on how to proceed after studying the report.

Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Gareth Jones