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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 17:02 GMT
Africa turns on Mugabe
Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Robert Mugabe
Mbeki has been reluctant to criticise Mugabe
In a blow to President Robert Mugabe's attempts to portray himself as fighting colonialism, two major African countries have criticised his policies.

Both South Africa and Ghana have expressed their concern at the situation in Zimbabwe, where Mr Mugabe faces difficult elections in March.


The levels of poverty and conflict are increasing, and if you add to that a fraudulent election, it has to be avoided

Thabo Mbeki
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has also urged Britain and Zimbabwe to "give peace a chance" after talks in Harare.

On Sunday, an opposition rally was broken up in the second city of Bulawayo by police and a pro-government militia.

South African President Thabo Mbeki told journalists: "The instability [in Zimbabwe] has gone on for far too long. The levels of poverty and conflict are increasing, and if you add to that a fraudulent election, it has to be avoided."

Correspondents say that the reference to a "fraudulent election" is unlikely to be well received in Harare.

Media muzzled

Mr Mbeki was speaking after meeting German President Johannes Rau and said that the region must do everything to ensure that the elections were free and fair.

He did not say what South Africa would do.

Injured farm worker
Zimbabwe has had two years of political violence

Ghana's Foreign Minister, Hackman Owusu-Agyemang told the BBC that "attempts to pass laws which sought to suppress the legitimate aspirations of Zimbabwe's opposition, muzzle the media and outlaw international observers would undermine the credibility of the presidential elections."

Zimbabwe's parliament is expected to reconvene on Tuesday to pass a law which bans foreign correspondents and introduces tight controls on local journalists, including the threat of a two-year prison sentence.

Laws banning election monitors and giving police powers to disperse political rallies have already been passed.

Ghanaian wife

The BBC's Kwaku Sakyi-Addo in Accra says that Ghana supported Zimbabwe's black liberation movements in the 1970s, led by Robert Mugabe.

Our correspondent says that this is the first time that Ghana has criticised Mr Mugabe over the political violence of recent years.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai
Morgan Tsvangirai will contest elections against Robert Mugabe

Mr Mugabe worked as a teacher in Ghana and his first wife, Sally, was Ghanaian.

Mr Obasanjo met both President Robert Mugabe and opposition leading Morgan Tsvangirai before leaving for Nigeria early on Monday morning.

Last September, he brokered a deal in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, under which Zimbabwe promised to end political violence, while Britain agreed to fund the programme of land reform.

Promise

On Sunday, an opposition rally was broken up in the second city of Bulawayo by police and a pro-government militia.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was due to address the rally as part of his campaign for the 9-10 March elections.

The Zimbabwe Government says it has kept to the deal but white farmers and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) accuse Mr Mugabe of reneging on his promises to end political violence and obey the law with regard to land reform.

In Bulawayo, the MDC says that self-styled "war veteran" supporters of Mr Mugabe occupied a stadium where the MDC was due to hold a rally.

Then police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of opposition activists, while leaving the "war veterans" unmolested, according to the MDC. At least 18 people were reportedly injured.

MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube said the incidents showed Mr Mugabe's promise of free and fair elections was meaningless.

See also:

10 Sep 01 | Africa
Does South Africa hold the key?
16 Jan 02 | Africa
Mugabe backs down on media law
07 Sep 01 | Africa
Text of Zimbabwe agreement
18 Jan 02 | Africa
Mugabe charms SADC
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