|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
In power for more than 20 years, he is now strongly challenged inside the country. As part of his bloody struggle with white farmers, he is targeting independent journalists and foreign reporters. In 2001, Zimbabwe became the African country with the worst press freedom situation. Twenty local journalists were arrested and three foreign correspondents deported. Mugabe and his government make constant sensational statements against the press, which they regularly accuse of "spying" or "terrorism." Yet the former schoolteacher, who has six university degrees, was hailed as a liberator when he won the 1980 presidential elections which ended white minority rule. Today he charges that the privately-owned local press only tells "lies" and that foreign media are out to "destabilise" the country.
They order violations of press freedom and have others do the deed. They might be president, cabinet minister, army chief, Guide of the Revolution or leader of an armed group. All have the power to jail, kidnap, torture and even kill journalists. Because they have faces, we should learn to recognise these predators the better to denounce them.
January, 2003, 17:28 GMT
No commitment over Mugabe summit
Downing Street has refused to give a commitment that the UK would try to block a visit to France by Robert Mugabe.
The Zimbabwean president is currently the subject of EU sanctions including a travel ban but that is due to expire in mid-February.
Speaking during Prime Minister's Questions, Tony Blair said the government stood behind travel restrictions on the Zimbabwe president.
The prime minister's spokesman said another set of sanctions would have to be agreed unanimously and the French had yet to submit a proposal over their planned Paris summit.
"This is a live issue. It will obviously be discussed on Monday. There's been no formal proposal yet from the French government and I'm not going to pre-empt our government's position," said the spokesman.
Yves Charpentier, head of press at the French Embassy in London, confirmed that France was considering inviting President Mugabe to the summit, but stressed: "Nothing has been decided yet.
"We will be discussing this among the EU members at next week's meeting."
But the Tories demanded to know whether the UK had approved a visit to France by Mr Mugabe at the invitation of Jacques Chirac.
Mr Blair said: "We've made it clear that we support the sanctions in place against Zimbabwe."
The Foreign Office earlier said it had had no request to waive an EU imposed travel ban on Mr Mugabe.
The summit was a matter for the French authorities, Downing Street said.
Conservative foreign affairs spokesman Michael Ancram said it was "hypocrisy of the highest order" for Mr Chirac to invite Mugabe when EU sanctions were supposed to ban travel within the union by Zimbabwe's rulers.
"President Chirac is well aware not only of the dire situation in Zimbabwe but that there are travel restrictions in force," said Mr Ancram.
He stressed: "No Franco-African summit can be exempt from the EU sanctions.
"It is bad enough that Mugabe and his thugs can attend UN-sponsored meetings in Europe, but to be personally invited by the president of France is outrageous.
"While it may not be intentional, this can only be interpreted as condoning genocide by starvation, ethnic cleansing, murder, rape and the destruction of the rule of law."
Menzies Campbell MP, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said Mr Mugabe should not be welcomed anywhere in the EU.
"To allow Mr Mugabe to strut his stuff in Paris would be absolutely unacceptable," said Mr Campbell.
"At a time when his country is in freefall, when millions are facing starvation, and when human rights are systematically flouted, there should be no welcome for Mr Mugabe anywhere in the European Union."
Conservatives sources say that any exemption to the EU travel ban requires unanimity among nation states, implying Britain must have agreed, if the visit is approved.
If the International Cricket Council (ICC) ventures out of Harare's five-star hotels into the poverty-stricken townships, they will see the Zimbabwe security apparatus in full effect.
Civil society groups have called a national strike on Wednesday to demand a new constitution.
The strike call has largely been ignored by those people fortunate enough to still be gainfully employed but the authorities are taking no chances.
Riot police armed with tear gas, truncheons and guns are patrolling the townships of Tafara and Mabvuku, the scenes of anti-government protests in recent years.
Overhead, helicopters can be seen, ready to disgorge yet more riot police and tear gas at the first sign of any trouble.
On Monday night, the local offices of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party were attacked with petrol bombs which killed one person and injured seven more.
Protesters know that they will get a beating and possibly far worse if they are caught.
The army has swiftly been deployed on the few occasions when the riot police have been unable to quell anti-government demonstrations.
And the lay-out of Harare makes life easier for the authorities.
Areas of extreme poverty and discontent are up to 25 km from the city centre, where the luxury hotels are.
The Harare Sports Club, venue for the cricket matches, is just over the road from the most tightly-controlled building in the country, Mr Mugabe's official residence.
Militias called off
If the ICC is only concerned with the safety of the visiting cricketers and officials, they could argue the sight of the riot police is a reassuring one.
The National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) which called Wednesday's strike has warned of more protests during the Cricket World Cup but these are likely to fizzle out, too.
But most of the political violence of the last three years has been the work of the militias supporting Mr Mugabe.
These will certainly be called off, in the main towns and cricket venues of Harare and Bulawayo at any rate.
In any case, most of their work has been done in rural areas or in the townships.
But the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says the cricket matches will provide a further excuse for the oppression of their activists.
Two MDC MPs say they have been tortured after being arrested in the past fortnight.
Job Sikhala says electrodes were attached to his genitals and he was beaten by police officers.
These incidents, along with Monday's petrol bomb attack could provide the ICC with an excuse to use security fears in order to justify switching the games to South Africa.
But the reality is that cricketers, fans and officials who stay in the centres of Harare and Bulawayo will be safer than if they were in Cape Town or Johannesburg.
Violent crime is a far greater problem south of the Limpopo.
And if the ICC is looking for a pretext to stop Zimbabwe hosting the Cricket World Cup, it would be far more honest to say so publicly.
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