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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 19:32 GMT
Food aid arrives in Zimbabwe
Displaced farm workers
The famine is blamed on farm invasions and drought
The United Nations World Food Programme says it has made its first delivery of food aid to Zimbabwe.

Trucks from neighbouring South Africa delivered the first of 5,200 tons of corn meal - the region's staple food - to warehouses in the second city of Bulawayo.

Further consignments of beans, ground nuts and vegetable oil would be delivered soon, said Anna Shotton, a WFP spokeswoman in Harare.

Field of wheat
Zimbabwe used to export food
This evidence of Zimbabwe's economic devastation came as southern African church leaders called on President Robert Mugabe to step down.

And the British Government said political conditions in Zimbabwe had worsened in the last two weeks, and threatened that it would press for the country's suspension from the Commonwealth unless the situation improved.

The UN food agency has appealed for $60m from international donors to feed 558,000 rural Zimbabweans in need of immediate aid.

The government blames the food shortages on poor rains, but critics say that the invasion of white-owned farms by militant supporters of Mr Mugabe has worsened the situation.

Zimbabwe has traditionally been a major exporter of food to the region.

On Monday, state media reported that the authorities had seized 36,000 tonnes of grain from white farmers who were accused of hoarding it to create artificial shortages.

President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe promised free and fair elections
The farmers said they needed the grain to feed livestock which would now have to be slaughtered.

A joint statement from the Methodist Church, the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa and the Botswana Christian Council said Mr Mugabe should be honoured for his role in helping to bring liberation to Africa, and it called on regional leaders to help him quit power with dignity.

A British Foreign Office Minister, Ben Bradshaw, told Parliament in London that there had been a catalogue of abuses by President Mugabe, including appalling atrocities against opposition supporters.

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said his government was working urgently with other countries to ensure that the "deplorable" policies of Mr Mugabe were reversed.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change has urged the European Union to impose "smart sanctions" on Zimbabwe unless Mr Mugabe takes speedy action to ensure that the March elections are free and fair.

EU foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels on Monday.

Zimbabwe parliament
Zanu-PF has a two-thirds majority in parliament
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's parliament has again postponed debate on controversial media laws following rare criticism from some members of the ruling Zanu-PF party.

The bill bans foreign correspondents and imposes tight controls on local journalists, although criticism has already led to some of these clauses being watered down.

It was originally due to be passed by parliament last year and has been delayed three times this month.

Correspondents say that Mr Mugabe is hoping that the media controls will help him stifle opposition criticism of his record during the presidential election campaign in March.

But Eddison Zvogbo, a long-standing rival of Mr Mugabe within Zanu-PF, has said that some of the measures in the media bill are unconstitutional.

Press freedom campaigners
Journalists plan to go to court over the media bill
Mr Zvogbo is chairman of the parliamentary legal committee which must approve all legislation before it is presented to parliament.

The committee has also forced delays to a bill giving the government the power to ban trade unions.

Mr Mugabe has already signed into law the equally controversial Public Order and Security Bill which outlaws criticism of the president and gives police wide powers to disperse public gatherings.

The opposition says these will be used to prevent them campaigning normally.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Barnaby Phillips
"Two new reports come to the same grim conclusion"
Former Zimbabwean High Court judge Michael Gillespie
"Incalculable damage has been done to the country"
Reverend Ross Olivier on President Mugabe
"Now is the time for him to stand down"
See also:

22 Jan 02 | Business
Grain shortages bite in Zimbabwe
23 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Tories want tough action on Zimbabwe
15 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Zimbabwe asylum returns halted
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