RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Zimbabwe enjoyed nearly eight months of peace and relative freedom, and then people there went to the polls, and things got violent. Three people have been killed in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, after military troops opened fire on protesters who support the opposition party there. The presidential result still has not yet been declared, but it looks like the current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is headed for a win. Some are questioning how fair the vote actually was. NPR's Eyder Peralta is with us now. He is at the election command center in Harare.
So, Eyder, I mean, just back up and explain how this situation turned violent.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: So yesterday, the command center - here at the command center, they were counting votes. They were also releasing some of the parliamentary results. And people got restless. They thought that the delay in releasing the votes basically amounted to rigging. So they just - they surrounded this place and started protesting. And then some protesters started throwing rocks. And then, I mean, within a matter of minutes, it went from tear gas to live bullets. And there was just chaos all around town. And Harare here - the capital city - had seemed pretty normal. You know, people were walking around.
PERALTA: They were talking freely. That was not the case pre-November in Zimbabwe. And then, all of a sudden, armored vehicles moved in with soldiers manning machine guns. And the streets cleared out. We saw soldiers hitting people with sticks. We saw a helicopter, a military helicopter, which you can probably hear right now, buzzing the city. And you could see a soldier on the helicopter pointing a machine gun at people.
MARTIN: I mean, clearly - these are the images of Robert Mugabe, right? This is what people wanted to change.
PERALTA: That's right. And that's what had changed in this country. The police was off the streets in this country, and yesterday just marked a kind of return to the old Zimbabwe. In fact, at night, when I spoke to one opposition MP, Job Sikhala, who told me that the military came to his house, and they opened fire for about three minutes. He says his family had to flee. He slept in the bathroom of a neighbor's house. And he says this was just intimidation - that they wanted to send a message to the leader to say, do not send your people into town.
And today, I just walked through town, and it feels a lot like the old Zimbabwe. People will no longer give me their names. They will no longer talk on tape. When I take out my notebook, they are scared. They fear retaliation. The military is walking around telling people to leave town. So yeah, we've seen a kind of very rapid return to the kind of Zimbabwe we've really been used to.
MARTIN: Right. So for better - or for worse, rather - what is the government - I mean, the government of Emmerson Mnangagwa - are they saying anything?
PERALTA: Yeah. So President Mnangagwa came on television last night, and he said he was very sorry for the loss of life but that he blamed the opposition for this. And then today, he tweeted that he was talking to Nelson Chamisa, the opposition leader, to see how they can move forward, how can they - how they could diffuse this situation. But I'm not sure how they'd do that. The electoral commission is supposed to announce results sometime today, and that is bound to inflame tensions.
MARTIN: NPR's Eyder Peralta reporting from Harare, Zimbabwe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.