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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 March 2007, 16:10 GMT
Mugabe tells critics to 'go hang'
Robert Mugabe
Mr Mugabe said the violence had been started by the MDC

Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe has said Western critics of his rule can "go hang", in response to accusations of mistreatment of opposition leaders.

Mr Mugabe said the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had triggered violence which led to arrests and alleged beatings of its leaders.

Western countries are considering extending sanctions against Zimbabwean officials in response to the violence.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is still in hospital.

When they criticise the government when it tries to prevent violence and punish perpetrators of that violence we take the position that they can go hang
Robert Mugabe

Mr Tsvangirai was arrested together with colleagues after a rally on Sunday. He later appeared in court with a fractured skull.

However, doctors say he is now out of danger and has suffered no permanent brain or scalp damage.

Meanwhile, police blamed the MDC for what they said was a firebomb attack on a Harare police station which left two policewomen in hospital with serious facial injuries.

A police spokesman blamed the attack on the "armed wing" of the MDC.

He said the violence would be met by "necessary force to ensure peace and stability is maintained".

Sanctions caution

Speaking after a meeting with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Mr Mugabe said there had been no Western criticism of the MDC, which had instigated the violence.

2003: Charged with treason - later dropped
2002: Lost election to Mugabe, charged with treason - later dropped
2000: Charged with treason - later dropped
2000: MDC won 57 parliamentary seats
1999: Helped form MDC

"When they criticise the government when it tries to prevent violence and punish perpetrators of that violence we take the position that they can go hang," he said.

There has been growing international criticism both in Africa and elsewhere of Zimbabwe over the opposition's treatment.

The UK and US governments are calling for sanctions beyond the current travel ban and assets freeze on senior officials.

But the EU and UN urged caution in imposing new restrictions.

"Sanctions have to be weighed very carefully because of the experience that we have had in the past, whereby sanctions have had a counter-productivity against innocent citizens," said UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro.

Diplomatic initiative

Mr Mugabe added that he would continue to accept humanitarian aid from the West as long as it did not "indulge in our politics".

More than 80% of Zimbabweans are living in poverty, with chronic unemployment and inflation running at more than 1,700% - the highest in the world.

Mr Kikwete, who has a reputation as a peacemaker, flew to Harare on Thursday for an unscheduled visit.

Tanzania, traditionally a close ally of Mr Mugabe, has been appointed along with Namibia and Lesotho by the regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community, to seek an end to the political crisis in Zimbabwe.

But Mr Kikwete gave few details of the talks, saying that "we agreed on the way forward on a number of issues".

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