/ 29 August 2007

Cut ties with Australia, say Zim state media

Zimbabwe’s state media on Wednesday called on the government to sever ties with Australia, accusing Prime Minister John Howard’s government of seeking to topple veteran President Robert Mugabe.

”There is no need to continue keeping up appearances when diplomatic ties between the two countries have irrevocably broken down,” the state-run Herald said in its editorial.

”The only remaining option for Zimbabwe is to shut down our mission in Sydney and order the Australian embassy in Harare to pack up and go.”

The editorial comes amid a visit to Australia by Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of Zimbabwe’s main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who held talks earlier this week with Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

Were the government to follow the Herald’s advice, it would be the first time that Zimbabwe has broken off diplomatic relations since independence in 1980.

The government mouthpiece said Australia had ”done everything it can to effect illegal regime change in Zimbabwe”, accusing it of openly siding with the MDC, which it called ”imperial Britain’s puppet opposition”.

”The Australian government has not made it a secret that it is working to subvert the same government it purports to have relations with, while we have continued to pretend that bilateral relations still exist between the two countries,” the paper added.

”We have nothing to lose by closing our mission in Sydney and kicking out the reactionaries they post here at three-year intervals.

”The question is, what do we stand to benefit by maintaining diplomatic relations with such a racist country that imposes barbaric sanctions on innocent children and sports people.”

After his meeting with Tsvangirai in the southern Australian city of Adelaide on Tuesday, Downer made clear that Canberra wanted a change of regime in Harare.

”We would like to see the back of President Mugabe, there is no question of that,” Downer said.

”I think it would be in the best interests of the people of Zimbabwe if he made an exit.

”Most objective observers would say that President Mugabe has pretty much come to his use-by date.”

Relations between the two countries have become increasingly strained and hit a new low in May when Zimbabwe, furious at the cancellation of a cricket tour, accused Canberra of funding ”terrorist activities”.

Earlier this month, Australia said it was cancelling the student visas of eight Zimbabweans whose parents have links with Mugabe’s government.

Downer said the move was an extension of existing sanctions against the African nation, and had been provoked by what Canberra says was Mugabe’s disregard of democracy and human rights.

‘Down with Western imperialists’

Meanwhile, thousands of hard-line supporters of Mugabe marched through Harare on Wednesday, denouncing the Zimbabwe president’s Western critics and endorsing his controversial programme of farm seizures.

The War Veterans’ Association said the march would be the start of a series of shows of strength on behalf of Mugabe, whose government is battling an inflation rate of more than 7 600 percent ahead of elections next year.

Many of the marchers carried banners with slogans such as” ”Down with Western imperialists” and ”Give land to the people”, while others sang chants pledging that ”We will die with our president”.

”This is the beginning of marches in support of our president because he is operating under sanctions from the Western imperialists,” Jabulani Sibanda, national chairperson of the veterans’ association, said during the march.

”We are doing this to show our support for him because of these sanctions and we will continue supporting him.”

About 5 000 people were taking part in the demonstration, which was expected to culminate in a series of speeches outside the offices of the ruling Zanu-PF party in the centre of the capital.

Mugabe has often used the so-called war veterans to intimidate opponents to his rule and they were at the vanguard of farm occupations during his controversial land reform programme which began in 2000.

While some of the veterans did take part in the war against the all-white regime of Ian Smith, many were not even born before 1980. — Sapa-AFP