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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 March 2007, 22:45 GMT
Archbishop urges Zimbabwe protest
Archbishop Pius Ncube in Harare 22/3/2007
Archbishop Ncube said starvation stalked Zimbabwe
A prominent Roman Catholic archbishop in Zimbabwe has called for mass street protests to force President Robert Mugabe from power.

The Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, told a news conference in Harare that he was willing to stand in front of "blazing guns" if necessary.

Scores of opposition activists have been arrested since police broke up a banned rally on 11 March in Harare.

There is increasing discontent over the country's deepening economic crisis.

Archbishop Ncube said that if Zimbabweans took to the streets in their thousands to demand that President Mugabe step down, the security forces would be powerless to stop them.

"I am ready to stand in front," he said. "We must be ready to stand, even in front of blazing guns."

'Stand up'

The archbishop blamed years of economic and political turmoil in Zimbabwe on a land redistribution programme launched in 2000 that has turned white-owned commercial farms over to blacks.

"Starvation stalks our land and government does nothing to correct our situation," he said.

"People are angry now and should stand up, fill the streets and demand that this man steps down now."

Robert Mugabe
Mr Mugabe has dismissed Western criticisms of his rule
The archbishop has been a long-standing critic of Mr Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party. Two years ago he made a similar appeal in the run-up to elections.

The news conference was organised by one of the groups behind the 11 March rally that was broken up by police.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and nearly 50 others were arrested and then allegedly beaten by police. The incident sparked international outcry.

Zimbabwe's leader has come under increasing international criticism for his handling of the economy and for stifling internal opposition.

An estimated 3m Zimbabweans, about a quarter of the population, have fled the country in recent years.

In Zimbabwe, the governor of the central bank, Gideon Gono, has complained that increases of about 200% in the price of petrol had made life unbearable.

The governor of the central bank, Gideon Gono, has said that the spirit of profiteering has become as deadly as HIV and Aids.

Archbishop Pius Ncube calls for a mass protest

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