HARARE (Reuters) - Hundreds of Zimbabwean doctors protested in central Harare on Monday over the disappearance of the leader of their union, but riot police blocked them from marching to President Emmerson Mnangagwa's office.
Peter Magombeyi, president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), was one of the organisers of an ongoing strike to demand higher wages for state doctors because of soaring living costs, before he disappeared on Saturday night.
ZHDA represents mainly junior doctors at public hospitals.
His colleagues have alleged he was abducted by the security services in an attempt to break the strike, which has disrupted healthcare services in hospitals, but a senior information ministry official denied the government was responsible.
A High Court judge ordered the ministers in charge of police and state security and the heads of intelligence and police to investigate Magombeyi's disappearance and give a report of their progress to his lawyers, a ruling seen by Reuters showed.
Magombeyi's sister on Sunday filed a court application to force the government to do everything possible to find her brother.
Police are investigating the case, spokesman Paul Nyathi said.
Rights groups accused the government of abducting activists in the lead-up to planned opposition protests last month, when the government also denied responsibility.
Mnangagwa's government has said it will not use excessive force against protesters after being criticised over its heavy-handed response to post-election violence last year and protests over fuel price hikes this year.
Doctors chanted "No Peter, no work" and held placards reading "Bring Peter back" as riot police stopped them from marching beyond the High Court building.
The doctors dispersed after police allowed half a dozen of them to deliver a petition to Mnangagwa's office demanding action over Magombeyi's disappearance, but they said their strike would continue.
"Dr Peter Magombeyi's whereabouts remain unknown, and we are seriously concerned about this. We therefore demand his unconditional return to his family," the petition read.
Two years after Mnangagwa and the army conspired to oust longtime ruler Robert Mugabe, people are suffering from triple-digit price rises and shortages of basic goods like fuel.
Mnangagwa's government has promised salary increases to public sector workers, but many say those rises are insufficient.
Diplomats said they were monitoring whether authorities respect the people's right to protest peacefully.
Some are sceptical since Mnangagwa was Mugabe's trusted lieutenant at times when the former president, who died this month, crushed dissent during his near-four decades in power.
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe,; Writing by Alexander Winning, editing by Ed Osmond)