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BUSINESS briefly came to a standstill in some parts of Harare's central business district yesterday, as anti riot police fired water cannons to disperse demonstrators protesting against the planned introduction of bond notes in October.

Although government has said the bond notes will be used as an incentive to promote exports, there is growing public fear that they are a backdoor strategy to bring back the Zimbabwe dollar, abandoned in 2009 after a hyperinflationary crisis that led to market-wide commodity shortages.

Some shops were forced to close after the police confronted the demonstrators at the tail end of the peaceful march as they headed to Parliament to deliver a petition.

Earlier on, the demonstrators had handed over a petition at the Ministry of Finance, where they lambasted Finance and Economic Development Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, for ruining the country's economy and planning to bail out government using the bond notes.

They implored on the Finance Minister to shelve the notes and concentrate on rebuilding the economy, which has been limping since 2000.

But, on their way back from Chinamasa's office all hell broke loose after the protesters clashed with police as they headed for Parliament where they wanted to deliver another petition.

Anti-riot police fired water cannons, sending both demonstrators and passersby scurrying for cover.

When the protesters began their demonstration near the Harare Main Post Office in the morning, unemployed graduates and angry citizens had stood up against the anti-riot police, denouncing high profile corruption and growing hardships.

"We need US$15 billion not bond notes," one placard said, referring to the US$15 billion that President Robert Mugabe said had been stolen through back stage deals in diamond mines controlled by government.

"Tabatanidzwa nekutambura, nehumabavha (hardships and corruption have brought us here)," read another placard.

"Payment of civil servants in instalments must stop," read another placard, referring to government's failure in the past few months to pay its 500 000 strong civil servants on time.

Demonstrators called for police restraint against protests and said they only wanted to send their message to authorities.

When the anti-riot police squad arrived, they jumped off their truck and headed towards the protesters at Harare Main Post Office; dozens of protestors fled, fearing brutal attacks from the police.

But many of the youths stood their ground and headed towards the police officers, singing protest songs.

This forced the advancing police to retreat back to their truck.

"We are not your enemies, but we are your brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers," reads part of a letter authored by pressure groups, Restoration of Human Rights International and the Unemployed Youths Organisation.

"All we want in life is to be able to feed our families and to be able to send our children to school so that they can get jobs and do the same for their children. We want them to work in Zimbabwe, not outside the country as it is now. We want doctors and medicines in our hospitals. When we stand up to ask the government of these human rights, do not beat us, rather stand with us because we all want the same basic human rights," said the letter.

It added: "Above all, we are all Zimbabweans; let us unite in demanding these rights from our government."

The youths then erupted into song and dance, saying they did not want to be "given orders by fools".

There has been growing discontent against the introduction of bond notes, but government appears to have largely ignored public opinion against the move, insisting it is going ahead with plans for the new currency.

The protests had been rejected by police, who have to sanction any demonstrations in terms of the draconian Public Order and Security Act.

Organisers had to seek permission from the High Court to proceed with the demonstration.

Source: Financial Gazette.

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