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Saturday, 29 April, 2000, 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK -BBC

Mugabe moves to seize farms
President Robert Mugabe is planning to use special powers to allow him to redistribute white-owned farms without paying compensation.

"Within 10 days the legal framework to take land and redistribute it to the people will be in place," Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa said, promising the land would immediately be redistributed.

Zimbabwe war veterans have led a campaign of invading more than 1,000 white-owned farms in Zimbabwe since February.

Mr Mnangagwa said that since parliament had been dissolved in preperation for elections, the president would use his special powers to repeal the law which required compensation to be paid for seized farms.

UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook quickly condemned the announcement as "a big step backwards".

"There can be no justification for this," he said in a statement in London. "This cannot be the way to solve the genuine problems of land reform."

Britain has refused to hand over 36m ($58m) to fund land reform unless free elections are held and there is an end to violence, in which at least eight people have been killed.

The director of the Commercial Farmers' Union, David Hasluck was also quick to denounce the move as evidence of bad faith on the government's part.

"We are trying to negotiate in good faith with the war veterans in an attempt to stop violence and prepare the situation for free and fair elections," he said.


The announcement of new presidential powers coincided with a series of rallies by the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the first ones since police were given new powers to restrict political gatherings.

The opposition accuses Mr Mugabe of orchestrating the farm invasions to bolster his diminishing support among disillusioned voters.

Two rallies passed off mostly peacefully, apart from a few skirmishes with government supporters who held a demonstration nearby.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party was using intimidation as a tactic.

Another opposition group, the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), cancelled a planned meeting, saying it was afraid of attacks by pro-government militants.

Mr Tsvangirai, conceded at a rally of 150 supporters near Harare that the opposition campaign, ahead of as yet unscheduled elections, was likely now to shift towards door-to-door canvassing, given the climate of intimidation.

He had earlier told a BBC News Online Forum that the MDC was considering challenging the police decision on Thursday to use special powers to ban rallies.

"We are examining the possibility of taking this issue to the Supreme Court," he said.

Farm occupation

Despite Friday's agreement between farmers' and war veterans' leaders to end the violence associated with the illegal occupation of farms, there have been reports of further attacks.

Groups of government supporters arrived at one farm, about 35km south-west of Harare, demanding money from the farm owner, threatening to burn down the farmhouse and warning him to leave his home.

Hundreds of squatters are reported to have been bussed in to occupy the white-owned tobacco farm.

At a pro-government rally in Harare, the war veterans' leader, Chenjerai Hunzvi, told his supporters they must ensure that the ruling Zanu-PF party remains in power.

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