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Wednesday, November 10, 1999 Published at 18:51 GMT


UK 'regrets' Mugabe gay protest

Peter Hain: Regrets, but no apology

The UK Government has expressed regret to Zimbabwe over an incident in which gay rights activists tried to serve a citizen's arrest on President Robert Mugabe during a visit to London.

Donald Anderson: No excuse for "intimidation"
Donald Anderson, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons, told the BBC that UK Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain had apologised in a telephone call to the Zimbabwean foreign minister.

According to Mr Anderson, Mr Hain said he was extremely sorry that security had been breached.

Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell: "Astonished"
However, a Foreign Office spokesman later clarified that Mr Hain's telephone call had been an expression of regret over discourtesy towards the president, not an apology.

"There is no question of the government apologising to anyone over the actions of a private individual," the spokesman said.

[ image: Peter Tatchell tried to make a citizen's arrest on Mr Mugabe]
Peter Tatchell tried to make a citizen's arrest on Mr Mugabe
Mr Hain had also said that "all people and groups" have the right to protest, according to Mr Anderson.

"Of course there are very grave breaches of human rights in Zimbabwe, and of course the president has very strong views about homosexuality," Mr Anderson added.

But he said this did not give activists the right to "intimidate" President Mugabe.

Gay activist Peter Tatchell, who had led the protest against Mr Mugabe, said he was "astonished" at the UK Government's reaction.

"We were merely seeking to enforce the 1984 convention against torture which Britain has signed and pledged to uphold," Mr Tatchell, of the gay rights group Outrage, told the BBC.

[ image: Robert Mugabe: To face more protests in South Africa]
Robert Mugabe: To face more protests in South Africa
"It is bizarre that the government has arrested General Pinochet in relation to allegations of torture, but when presented with evidence of President Mugabe's use of torture, the police and the attorney-general allowed him to go Christmas shopping at [the London department store] Harrods and then fly home a free man."

Outrage said its members had attempted to perform a citizen's arrest on Mr Mugabe for "homophobia and human rights abuses against the people of Zimbabwe".

Mr Tatchell and two other activists were arrested after the incident.

Letter to Blair

Mr Tatchell also said he had written to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair "to request that, during the Commonwealth Summit in South Africa, you initiate moves to expel Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth and to suspend British aid to Zimbabwe, until such time as Robert Mugabe's government halts its attacks on the gay community and other abuses of human rights".

He cited reports that a foreign policy think-tank has already recommended the expulsion of Zimbabwe and three other countries from the Commonwealth, on the grounds of human rights abuses.

Gay activists in South Africa have meanwhile promised "noisy" protests in Durban and Johannesburg when President Mugabe visits South Africa for the Commonwealth Summit later this week.

Mr Mugabe has frequently condemned homosexuality, once saying that gays and lesbians were "worse than pigs or dogs".

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