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Namibia rolls out red carpet for Mugabe

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe arrived in Namibia on Tuesday at the start of a three-day visit which will see him hold talks with counterpart Hifikepunye Pohamba and sign a number of bilateral agreements.

Pohamba was on hand to greet Mugabe who was given a red-carpet reception at Windhoek airport.

After a 24-gun salute and the playing of the national anthems, the two leaders then headed into town ahead of a state banquet.

Their formal talks are scheduled to take place on Wednesday when Mugabe will also tour a Windhoek diamond cutting and polishing plant before making a dash for the coast Thursday, where he will visit a fish factory.

While Mugabe received the red-carpet treatment from Pohamba, human rights groups are preparing a more hostile reception for Mugabe.

They are determined that the 83-year-old, isolated by the West over allegations of rights abuses and vote-rigging, will not be given a free ride during his visit to the normally tranquil Southern African nation.

”We will organise a peaceful demonstration outside the Zimbabwean high commission on Wednesday morning,” human rights activist Phil ya Nangoloh said.

”We will together with other civil organisations register our strongest disapproval of the outrageous human rights, humanitarian and political situation in Zimbabwe,” he told Agence France-Presse.

Ya Nangoloh, who heads the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), sent an open letter to Pohamba on Monday informing him of the demonstration.

”Mr President, I let you know about our solidarity with the oppressed people of Zimbabwe,” the NSHR executive director wrote.

”Their oppressor is the Zimbabwean government under the leadership of President Robert Mugabe.”

Mugabe was a close ally of Nambia’s former president Sam Nujoma, with both men having led their countries since independence.

While relations with Pohamba, who became president in 2005, have been somewhat cooler, many within the ruling South West African Peoples’ Organisation (Swapo) still regard Mugabe as a liberation

hero.

Swapo’s youth wing has condemned the planned protest as symptomatic of the ”reactionary and unpatriotic tendencies of Western-backed non-government organisations”.

The ”crime” Mugabe committed was to ”embark on the long overdue land distribution from whites to indigenous African people,” Elijah Ngurare, information secretary of the Swapo Youth League, said.

”As a result, the US and EU governments and Britain imposed racist sanctions on Zimbabwe,” he said.

”Swapo Youth League is calling on all progressive forces in Namibia … to render the necessary support to the people and the government of Zimbabwe, which is under hegemonic and racist sanctions.”

Mugabe and his immediate coterie have been subject to sanctions from the European Union since disputed elections in 2002. Relations with the West began to sour when Mugabe launched a controversial land reform programme in 2000 which saw thousands of white-owned farms seized by the state.

The Zimbabwean president, battling an inflation rate of nearly 1 600% and an unemployment rate of around 80%, has laid much of the blame for the economic crisis on the United States and former colonial power Britain. – Sapa-AFP

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