Zimbabwe doctor group reports 68 gunshot wounds

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A Zimbabwe lawyers' group says a prominent pastor and activist has been charged with subverting a constitutional government amid a crackdown on protests against a dramatic fuel price increase.

It noted bites from the alleged unleashing of police dogs, and the "dragging of patients with life-threatening conditions" to court.

Zimbabwe has faced three days of protests over what is now the world's most expensive gasoline.

Zimbabwe's state security minister says more than 600 people have been arrested countrywide amid protests over dramatic fuel price increases. He appeared in court Thursday and was remanded in custody until Friday, his lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said by phone.

"The escalation of violence in Zimbabwe over recent days has been aggravated by the disproportionate use of force by security personnel", European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said in a statement.

HARARE, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Zimbabwean doctors said on Thursday they had treated almost 70 people for gunshot wounds while police rounded up hundreds after violent protests this week triggered by a steep rise in fuel prices.

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Organiser Megan Bridger-Darling said she was heartened by the turnout to the event. "All the time she think positive, she happy". Police are looking for at least one attacker.

The country's largest telecom company, Econet, told customers the government forced it to shut down internet service.

The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe says it is "alarmed" by credible reports that security forces are targeting and beating activists and labor leaders.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa while traveling overseas has denounced what he called "wanton violence and cynical destruction".

Some tech-savvy Zimbabweans found solutions to the internet block and BestVPN.com reported a 1,560 percent surge in searches for Virtual Private Networks Monday and Tuesday, compared to a week earlier.

As Mnangagwa makes an extended overseas trip that will include a stop at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to plead for more foreign investment, former military commander and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, a hardliner, is in charge at home.

The president says he understands people's "pain and frustration" and calls for peace.

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The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) is leading the three-day stay-at-home protest over the sharp drop in living standards caused by a dollar crunch that has sent prices soaring and caused shortages of fuel and drugs frustrating most of the citizens who have to squeeze out money they don't have to afford the inflated prices.

Armed police and soldiers broke up groups of more than five people in Harare, while desperation for food forced some people to venture into the streets. But virtually all shops are closed.

Police fired tear gas after a crowd tried to overrun a shopping center that opened to sell bread.

"This kind of life is unbearable, we have soldiers at fuel queues and now soldiers again are controlling the bread queue", one man says. "Are we at war?"

An uneasy calm returned to Zimbabwe's main cities on Wednesday but businesses and schools remained closed and mobile networks enforced a government internet shutdown on the final day of a national strike triggered by a steep rise in fuel prices.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights plans to go to court with the Zimbabwean chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, ZLHR said in a statement emailed Thursday from the capital, Harare.

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Mawarire famously launched the #ThisFlag campaign that led to nationwide anti-government protests in 2016 against mismanagement and Mugabe.

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