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Last Updated: Friday, 31 August 2007, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Church backs Mugabe bishop critic
Archbishop Pius Ncube in Harare 22/3/2007
Archbishop Ncube says Zimbabweans are desperate
Zimbabwe's Roman Catholic bishops have publicly pledged their support for the Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, a prominent government critic.

The nine bishops took out a full-page advert in the official Herald newspaper, in which they said he had "exposed the evils" of the government.

The move comes after accusations that Archbishop Ncube had had an affair with a married woman in his parish.

His lawyers called the allegations an orchestrated attempt to discredit him.

Meanwhile, South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki has again ruled out any attempt to try to change the government in Zimbabwe.

"We are not going to be involved in any regime change," Mr Mbeki told South Africa's parliament on Thursday.

"We are not going to do it. We think it is fundamentally wrong."

Mr Mbeki has been tasked to try to mediate Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis.

He has been criticised for his policy of "quiet diplomacy" towards Zimbabwe.

'Deplorable'

The Catholic bishops said attacks on Archbishop Ncube by the government and state media were "outrageous and utterly deplorable and constitute an assault on the Catholic Church".

They urged Zimbabwe's Catholics - the country's largest religious grouping - to remember the archbishop in their prayers.

PIUS NCUBE
Born: 1946
Archbishop of Bulawayo
Worked in Matabeleland during massacres in the 1980s
Has called for protests against Mugabe

"For years, he has courageously and with moral authority advocated social justice and political action to overcome the grievous crisis facing our country."

The husband of the woman with whom he allegedly had an affair has filed a lawsuit, demanding 20bn Zimbabwe dollars (about $160,000, or 80,000, on the black market exchange rate) in damages from the archbishop.

The archbishop, who denies the allegations, has openly denounced Mr Mugabe as a "megalomaniac".

Last month in an interview with the BBC, he argued that a case could be made for the overthrow of the president.

He has said the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe has reached "life-threatening proportions", and that regional political intervention was now needed.

Earlier this year, Archbishop Ncube called for mass street protests and said people must be prepared to stand in front of "blazing guns" to force Mr Mugabe from power.

President Robert Mugabe has warned the country's bishops they were on a "dangerous path" if they became too political.

Zimbabwe has the world's highest rate of inflation - currently about 7,500% - and just one in five adults are in work.


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