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Saturday, 23 February, 2002, 11:29 GMT
Zimbabwe attacks US sanctions
Mugabe supporters march
Violence has flared between rival political factions
Supporters of President Robert Mugabe have dismissed sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the United States as a "Western ploy".

The ban on Mr Mugabe and his ruling elite travelling to the US would fail in its attempt to hurt the government, a Zanu-PF party leader said.

The aim is to put us under pressure and to give an advantage to the opposition

Didymus Mutasa, Zanu-PF official

The US said that chances for a free and fair election in Zimbabwe next month were falling but Didymus Mutasa, external secretary for the ruling party, said the West wanted to destabilise the government.

The US sanctions also apply to officials' families and those who run businesses that benefit from dealing with the government. They follow similar measures taken by the European Union.

"We are not surprised at the sanctions. The aim is to put us under pressure and to give an advantage to the opposition," Mr Mutasa said.

"But the sanctions will not work and they will not soften our resolve to defend Zimbabwe's national sovereignty," he told the Reuters news agency.

US President George W Bush ordered the travel ban on Friday as tension and outbreaks of violence continued.

Robert Mugabe
Mr Mugabe is campaigning around the country
On Monday, the European Union on Monday imposed a visa ban and asset freeze on 20 top Zimbabwean officials and withdrew its election observer mission from the country, saying they would not be able to do their jobs.

Southern African election observers in the country have warned that a wave of political violence threatens chances of a free and fair poll.

Mr Mugabe was to address a rally in drought-stricken Matabeleland North province on Saturday afternoon.

Clear support

In the 9-10 March election he and his Zanu-PF party will be challenged by Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The MDC said Zimbabwean police shot at Mr Tsvangirai's convoy on Friday and two South African election observers were caught up in a separate attack by militant government supporters.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the sanctions were being imposed because "conditions for a transparent election process in Zimbabwe have eroded".

The BBC's Rageh Omaar
"Campaigning for the opposition in Zimbabwe often means running for you life"
Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai
"The EU sanctions have come a little late"
Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon
"We have tried to influence without much success"
See also:

23 Feb 02 | Africa
Mugabe banned from US travel
06 Feb 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe's climate of fear
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