No further details were immediately available.
The country’s ruling Zanu-PF party won a sweeping majority in parliament, electoral officials said, amid growing anger among opposition supporters over the outcome of the country’s first election since the toppling of veteran leader Robert Mugabe.
Clashes were reported in the capital, Harare, and international monitors called on the electoral commission to publish the results of the closely fought presidential race.
Officials have so far declared the results of only the parliamentary vote, which gave Zanu-PF two-thirds of the seats.
Movement for Democratic Change leader Nelson Chamisa mounted a strong challenge to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took power last year after a show of strength by the military forced Mugabe out. The results of the parliamentary elections have stoked fear among opposition supporters that the vote had been rigged.
In Harare, automatic gun fire was heard as police and the army attempted to disperse protesters. Tear gas and a water cannon were also used as protesters fled the scene.
A number of protesters appeared to be beaten up by security forces as they demonstrated close to the hotel hosting international election monitors.
Burning tires could be seen on the roadside while armored vehicles patrolled the streets and a police helicopter flew above the protesters.
Mnangagwa has blamed MDC for the unrest, saying party leaders had abetted in “acts of political violence,” while Chamisa’s spokesman maintains that protesters were not violent and the deployment of soldiers was unnecessary.
“We are deeply hurt and feel vulnerable in our country,” Nkululeko Sibanda said. “Are we at war? Are civilians the enemy of the state?”
Chamisa hinted he could reject the official result if it doesn’t go his way.
“THANK YOU ZIMBABWE,” he tweeted Wednesday. “I’m humbled by the support you have given to me as a Presidential Candidate. We have won the popular vote. You voted for total Change in this past election! We have won this one together. No amount of results manipulation will alter your WILL #Godisinit.”
As the protests gathered momentum, Mnangagwa called for calm on Twitter: “At this crucial time, I call on everyone to desist from provocative declarations and statements. We must all demonstrate patience and maturity, and act in a way that puts our people and their safety first. Now is the time for responsibility and above all, peace.”
Zanu-PF hailed the parliamentary reusults.
“This is the people’s endorsement of what President Emmerson Mnangagwa did to the people of Zimbabwe when he came to power,” party spokesman Nick Mangwana told CNN
Elmar Brok, chief observer of the European Union Election Observation Mission Zimbabwe, urged the country’s electoral board to announce the results as soon as possible.
“The longer it lasts that the results of the Presidential election are unknown, the more lack of credibility arises in Zimbabwe, within the parties and within the population,” he said.
The US Embassy in Harare and the UN issued statements saying they were concerned about the events unfolding in the capital.
“We urge leaders of all parties to call for calm from members of their respective parties. We further urge the Defense Forces of Zimbabwe to use restraint in dispersing protestors,” the embassy statement said. “Zimbabwe has an historic opportunity to move the country towards a brighter future for all its citizens. Violence cannot be a part of that process.”
Added a statement from UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s office: “We remind the incumbents and political parties of the commitments they made in the Peace Pledge and the Code of Conduct to ensure a peaceful electoral process. We call on the political leaders and the population as a whole to exercise restraint and reject any form of violence.”
Mnangagwa, 75, who took power after helping orchestrate the de facto coup against Mugabe in November, said he was receiving “extremely positive” information on the election. Meanwhile, Chamisa, 40, said his party was poised for victory.
The chair of the electoral commission, Justice Priscilla Chigumba, told reporters in Harare on Tuesday that the commission was confident there was no cheating or rigging in the largely peaceful vote. Observers were present to monitor the election for the first time in years, including 20 teams from the US Embassy in Harare.
A report published by African Union observers Wednesday said, “By and large, the process was peaceful and well-administered.”
But observers from the European Union disagreed, claiming that “a truly level playing field was not achieved” in the run-up to the election.
EU observers pointed to the “misuse of state resources, instances of coercion and intimidation, partisan behavior by traditional leaders and overt bias in state media, all in favor of the ruling party.”
The commission has until August 4 to release the final results. If no candidate secures more than 50% of the vote, a runoff will be held September 8.
Known as “the crocodile” for his political cunning and longevity, Mnangagwa has attempted to rebrand Zanu-PF, pledging to heal divisions and rebuild the country. He is still widely considered to be Mugabe’s man because he worked so closely with him for more than 40 years, first as his special assistant during the 1977 liberation war, and later as security minister and justice minister.
Chamisa — the country’s youngest-ever presidential candidate, who took over the MDC leadership following the death of founder Morgan Tsvangirai in February — tweeted Tuesday that his party had done “exceedingly well.”
During the campaign, Chamisa aimed to appeal to younger voters with promises of electoral reform, tax cuts and jobs.
While his message may strike a chord, he does not have the same level of backing from the security forces or military who oversaw Mugabe’s departure.
But both men face a mighty challenge to help the country recover from the dire economic situation that was inflicted upon it by Mugabe’s rule.