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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 17:12 GMT
Mugabe warns of battle ahead
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe is confident of victory
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has urged his supporters to prepare for a physical fight with the main opposition party, which he has again accused of terrorism.

This is a real physical fight and we have to prepare for it

President Mugabe

Speaking at the start of a three-day conference of his ruling Zanu-PF party, Mr Mugabe said the opposition Movement for Democratic Change had chosen to use violence and terror, because it had no viable political programme on which to contest presidential elections, now set for March.

"Violence is not just happening, it in fact has been deliberately hatched at the center of the MDC and by its patrons and principals overseas... This is a real physical fight and we have to prepare for it," he said in a nationally televised speech.

However, an independent human rights group in Zimbabwe has said that most of the people known to have been killed in political violence in the past year were opposition supporters.

Casey Kelso, of Amnesty International, at a news conference in Johannesburg
Amnesty International accuses Mugabe of persecuting opponents

And they say the widespread intimidation of farm workers and opposition supporters is continuing, with police failing to intervene satisfactorily.

President Mugabe is launching his presidential election campaign in front of the thousands of delegates who have gathered in the resort town of Victoria Falls.

It is expected that Mr Mugabe will face the oppositon leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, in the poll.

President Mugabe also accused Britain, the former colonial power, of being behind an international campaign to discredit his party over its policy of land seizures.

Regional tension

The conference comes amid mounting political tension, with Zimbabwe's neighbours concerned that the situation there should not slip out of control.

US Congress
US is threatening sanctions on Zimbabwe

Our Southern Africa correspondent says that Zimbabwe's big neighbour, South Africa, has most to lose should the crisis deepen in the coming weeks.

Already hundreds of jobless Zimbabweans are trying to cross into South Africa every day, and the dramatic fall in South Africa's currency is partially due to a loss of confidence because of the Zimbabwean upheavals.

Other, smaller neighbours, have similar concerns.

Both Malawi and Mozambique fear that thousands of migrant workers could return home from Zimbabwe if they lose their jobs.

But in public, African leaders are reluctant to criticise too much.

And Southern African leaders have spoken out against the sanctions threatened by leaders in the United States and Europe.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips
"Zimbabwe's violence is getting worse"
The BBC's Michael Voss
looks at how ready Zimbabwe is for the electoral battle ahead
See also:

11 Dec 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe names election month
05 Dec 01 | Africa
Sanctions loom for Mugabe
04 Dec 01 | Africa
Court backs Mugabe land reforms
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