Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Zimbabwe shut down the nation's Internet access Thursday to repress dissent against President Emerson Mnangagwa's government as fuel prices skyrocket.
Econet Wireless, the country's largest mobile network provider, said it received a directive from the government for a total shutdown until further notice. More than 600 protesters have been arrested in Zimbabwe as the government cracks down on opposition.
"Our lawyers advised we are required to comply with the directive pending the courts decision on its legality," Econet Wireless said. "The earlier directives are already the subject of a pending High Court Application. We sincerely apologize for all inconvenience caused by the acts of government which are beyond our reasonable control."
Fuel prices have gone up 150 percent, prompting the labor group ZCTU to call for a three-day strike. The activists are using social media to rally people to their cause. The government has blocked all social media sites to prevent people from working together.
Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said a new cyber bill being considered in parliament will ensure the Internet isn't used to violate national security. That's a threat to free speech and Internet freedoms.
The U.S. Embassy in Harare urged all sides to show restraint. There are reports that protesters are being beating activists and labor leaders.
"The United States strongly supports freedom of expression, freedom of association, and peaceful assembly. People have the constitutional right to protest and express their views peacefully," the embassy said in a statement. " We condemn acts of arson and looting and threats against citizens. We call on protesters to refrain from violence and threats of violence, which will only cause further economic hardship."
Britain has summoned Zimbabwe's ambassador to London to discuss the situation in the country this week. It could be a huge blow to Zimbabwe's attempts to get re-admitted to the British Commonwealth.