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22 Nov 2004 11:02
Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader took his campaign against President Robert Mugabe to Britain on Sunday, rallying expatriates and declaring their destitute southern African country ready for “regime change”.
“We want regime change in Zimbabwe. But we want regime change by through the ballot, not the bullet,” said Morgan Tsvangirai, the head of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
“They may beat us, they may kill us, they may burn our houses… [but] they can not take our independence away from us.
The struggle we are waging against the regime… it’s a justified struggle,” he told a packed audience in the British capital.
Tsvangirai kicked off a European tour last week, the second foreign trip he has made since being acquitted of treason charges and his passport was returned to him one month ago.
Mugabe’s regime has already warned the 52-year-old, a former weaver turned union leader and then politician, that he should not return to Zimbabwe if he has been calling on Western governments to keep up sanctions against the state.
“That would make him the state’s enemy number one, and I don’t think he would want to come back to the country,” Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said on Wednesday after Tsvangirai’s stopover in Sweden.
But in London the political rival to Mugabe sounded a defiant note, shouting “No apologies to Chinamasa!”
“I will be back home.
He brushed aside claims from Mugabe’s camp that he was a “puppet” of former colonial power Britain, saying Zimbabwe’s crisis was the making of the 80-year-old Mugabe, who led the country to independence in 1980 and has hung clung to power since.
“It is not a creation of [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair, it is not a creation of [US President George] Bush,” he said, adding that accusations of his collusion with Western powers were signs of Mugabe’s own guilt.
“They have to say it. They have nothing to offer the people of Zimbabwe. They’ve destroyed all we entrusted them with…. Zimbabwe has gone from a breadbasket to a basketcase.”
European Union sanctions on Zimbabwe include a travel ban on Mugabe and his close associates, as well as a freeze on his EU-based assets.
A former agricultural exporter for the region, Zimbabwe’s once-model economy has crashed, leading to spiralling inflation now topping 300%, with 70% unemployed according to official statistics and 80% of the population living below the poverty line.
Tsvangirai, who visited South Africa and several other African states on his first foreign trip following his acquittal last month, said regional leaders had come to a “sudden realisation” that Mugabe’s regime had created the “crisis of starvation” there.
“If Africa is to regain its credibility, they had better start solving some of the national crises we face. Zimbabwe is certainly one of them,” he said, indicating conflicts in Côte d’Ivoire and Sudan’s Darfur region were others.
The MDC has boycotted all by-elections in Zimbabwe in a bid to pressure the government into passing electoral reforms ahead of polls next March.
In 2002, Tsvangirai, former Secretary General of the powerful Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, lost the presidential election to Mugabe. The election was deemed unfair by international rights groups, and the MDC is challenging the outcome in court.
Zimbabwe’s Parliament is currently considering new legislation which would create an independent electoral commission and other changes in the election system.
MDC Secretary General Welshman Ncube called the current situation “wholly unacceptable”, saying before the election commission had even been formed the registrar had already reapportioned voting districts based on “highly, highly flawed” voter rolls, and had taken three seats away from MDC-loyal constituencies.
“The election is already in the process of being rigged as we speak,” he told the London audience.
The MDC leaders are expected to remain in Britain until Tuesday, before moving on to Germany, France and other Western European states. â€’ Sapa-AFP
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