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Virus Measures Turn Violent in Africa  03/28 08:45

   JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Police fired tear gas at a crowd of Kenyan ferry 
commuters as the country's first day of a coronavirus curfew slid into chaos. 
Elsewhere, officers were captured in mobile phone footage whacking people with 
batons.

   Virus prevention measures have taken a violent turn in parts of Africa as 
countries impose lockdowns and curfews or seal off major cities. Health experts 
say the virus' spread, though still at an early stage on the continent, 
resembles that of Europe, adding to widespread anxiety. Cases across Africa 
were set to jump above 4,000 on Saturday.

   Abuses of the new measures by authorities are an immediate concern. 

   Minutes after South Africa's three-week lockdown began on Friday, police 
screamed at homeless people in downtown Johannesburg and went after some with 
batons. Some motorists were pursued, stopped, searched and called "selfish." 
Other citizens reported the police use of rubber bullets. Fifty-five people 
across the country were arrested.

   In Rwanda, the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to impose a lockdown, 
police have denied that two civilians shot dead Monday were killed for defying 
the new measures, saying the men attacked an officer after being stopped.

   And now Zimbabwe, where police are widely criticized by human rights groups 
for deadly crackdowns, enters a three-week lockdown on Monday as the country's 
handful of virus cases already threatens to overwhelm one of the world's most 
fragile health systems.

   In Kenya, outrage has been swift.

   "We were horrified by excessive use of police force" ahead of the curfew 
that began Friday night, Amnesty International Kenya and 19 other human rights 
groups said in a statement on Saturday. "We continue to receive testimonies 
from victims, eyewitnesses and video footage showing police gleefully 
assaulting members of the public in other parts of the country."

   Tear gas forced hundreds of people trying to reach a ferry in the port city 
of Mombasa ahead of the curfew to touch their faces as they vomited, spat and 
wiped away tears, increasing the chance of the virus' spread, the rights groups 
said.

   Even some health workers reported being intimidated by police officers as 
they tried to provide services after the curfew, the statement added.

   Kenya's interior ministry on Saturday replied to the criticism in a 
statement saying that the curfew "is meant to guard against an apparent threat 
to public health. Breaking it is not only irresponsible but also puts others in 
harm's way."

   Kenya's government has not said how many people have been arrested. Because 
courts are also affected by the virus prevention measures, all but serious 
cases will now be dealt with at police stations, the government has said. That 
means anyone detained for violating curfew faces time in crowded cells.

   The Law Society of Kenya will go to court to challenge the curfew on the 
grounds that it is unconstitutional and has been abused by police, president 
Nelson Havi said in a statement. The penalty for breaking a curfew is not 
corporal punishment, he added.

   "It is evident that COVID-19 will be spread more by actions of police than 
of those claimed to have contravened the curfew," Havi said.


(KR)

 
 
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