Protesters brought the centre of Zimbabwe’s capital to a standstill and fought running battles with police on Friday.
During one of the biggest demonstrations against President Robert Mugabe for decades.
The chaotic scenes came after 18 opposition groups and parties called their supporters to march for reform of the country’s widely-discredited electoral system before national elections in 2018.
The authorities in Harare tried to block the protest, but it was given the go-ahead by the High Court. Even so, police used tear gas and water cannons against marchers in Freedom Square within 20 minutes of the court order.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, fled the rally in a car while protesters ran for cover. Joice Mujuru, a former vice-president turned opposition leader, also made a hasty departure.
The repeated use of tear gas meant that far fewer than the 150,000 people who had been projected to attend the march actually turned up. Instead a dedicated band of 200 or 300 protesters took on riot police and soldiers.
They barricaded roads with rocks, tore up paving slabs and set fire to cardboard boxes. Shops closed early and drew down their shutters while a bus stop and a popular market were burned to the ground.
Riot police pursued the demonstrators and threatened journalists covering the rally while a military helicopter hovered low overhead. Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC secretary general, said the regime should expect no peace in the coming weeks. “This is not a wedding, it is a fight,” he said.
Brighton Chavanduka, 45, an unemployed father of four, said he had been sacked from his secretarial job six years ago because of his support for the MDC. “They hate this today because the opposition is getting together. We will be stronger together,” he said.
Ignatius Chombo, the home affairs minister, labelled opposition leaders “foreign agents” using protests to cause chaos in order to justify international intervention in Zimbabwe. “Those regime change agents bent on trying to remove a democratically elected government will face the full wrath of the law,” said Mr Chombo.