/ 25 May 2008

Mugabe threatens US ambassador

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Sunday accused the United States of political interference and threatened to expel its ambassador, as his party began its campaign for next month’s election run-off.

Mugabe also said the State Department’s top diplomat for Africa had behaved like a prostitute by suggesting that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai had won the March 29 elections.

The 84-year-old’s attacks on US ambassador James McGee and Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer signalled the start of his campaign for the June 27 run-off against Tsvangirai, who won the first round but fell short of an absolute majority.

”He [McGee] says he fought in Vietnam, but fighting in Vietnam does not give him the right to interfere in our domestic affairs. I am just waiting to see if he makes one more step wrong. He will get out,” Mugabe said at a campaign rally.

”As tall as he is, if he continues to do that I will kick him out of the country.”

Of Frazer, he said: ”You saw this little American girl trotting around like a prostitute celebrating that the MDC had won. A disgraceful act.”

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, routinely accuses the United States and Britain of backing the MDC to punish him for seizing thousands of white-owned farms since 2000.

He told supporters in Harare that the Western allies wanted to control Zimbabwe’s resources.

Mugabe also promised land to Zimbabweans who returned from South Africa. About 3,5-million people have fled to South Africa and other countries to escape impoverishment in an economy where inflation is over 165 000%, four in five adults have no job, and food and fuel are in desperately short supply.

Change of tactics

Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party have signalled that they intend to pursue a grassroots campaign ahead of the run-off, in place of the mass rallies they have favoured since 1980.

That strategy failed on March 29, when Zanu-PF lost control of Parliament and Tsvangirai came within a few percentage points of winning the presidential poll outright.

The new tactics will include canvassing voters door-to-door and organising meetings in villages, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told the state-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper.

The MDC draws much of its backing from the capital Harare and other cities, and offsetting that urban support is one of the keys to victory for Mugabe, whose popularity has plunged as the economy has collapsed.

He is still admired by many in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa for leading the battle to end British colonial rule, and a grassroots campaign may tap into this part of his reputation.

Tsvangirai returned to Zimbabwe on Saturday for the first time since early April.

He has been travelling to raise support for his bid to oust Mugabe, and postponed his return a week ago when his party said Zimbabwe’s military intelligence was plotting to kill him.

The government dismissed the allegation as a stunt.

The MDC says dozens of its supporters have been killed or beaten in an intimidation campaign orchestrated by Zanu-PF, and that the final result could be rigged by election officials, who held back the results of the first round for five weeks.

”What we want is a complete demilitarisation of the situation,” Tsvangirai told a press conference on Saturday.

Zanu-PF says the MDC is responsible for the violence. Mugabe said on Sunday it was training youths to engage in attacks and denied that he and his officials wanted more unrest.

The Southern African Development Community, which is due to monitor the run-off, said this month that conditions were neither safe nor fair yet for a fresh vote. It is due to hold a meeting on Tuesday to discuss preparations for the election. – Reuters 2008