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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 15:58 GMT
Tories want tough action on Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe
Mr Mugabe is facing elections in March
By the BBC's Bethan Rhys-Roberts

Britain's main opposition Conservative Party has called on the Labour Government to adopt a far tougher stance against President Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe.


The reluctance of this government to face up to this spiralling disaster... is nothing short of an abdication of responsibility

Tory foreign affairs spokesman Michael Ancram
The party has called on Labour to abandon what it describes as its "softly-softly approach" in favour of direct action.

But the UK Government insists that any action taken must be rational and effective.

This was the third time British parliamentarians debated the situation in Zimbabwe in as many months.

African appeasement

Conservative MP Julian Lewis accused Robert Mugabe of running a "racist and fascistic regime", a "parody of democracy" and compared the government's approach to him to Britain's appeasement of Hitler during the 1930s.


The importance of not playing into President Mugabe's hands and allowing him to portray this as a neo-colonial struggle with Britain is absolutely vital

Foreign Minister Ben Bradshaw

The Conservative spokesman on foreign affairs Michael Ancram said: "The reluctance of this government to face up to this spiralling disaster, to take any initiative, indeed, to do anything other than wring their hands, is nothing short of an abdication of responsibility."

There were repeated calls for tough targeted sanctions to be imposed by the European Union and for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the Commonwealth.

Conservative Tony Baldry accused the Commonwealth of adopting double standards by suspending Pakistan, but not Zimbabwe.

Suspension

Foreign Minister Ben Bradshaw said that Britain would argue for the suspension of Zimbabwe at the forthcoming meeting of Commonwealth heads of government in Australia, if the situation continued to deteriorate.

Michael Ancram
Ancram accused the government of hand-wringing
But he insisted that any action against Zimbabwe had to be rational and effective, putting Zimbabweans first.

"The importance of international action is paramount, and the importance of not playing into President Mugabe's hands and allowing him to portray this as a neo-colonial struggle with Britain is absolutely vital."

'Clinging to power'

Several parliamentarians stressed that the March presidential elections in Zimbabwe would not be free or fair.

The prospect of Mr Mugabe losing but clinging to power would be hair-raising for Britain, according to one Conservative.

The government said that Zimbabwe's ruling party was looking to rig the process and bludgeon its way through.

But it is declining to speculate on what action it will take if that does happen.

See also:

15 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Zimbabwe asylum returns halted
15 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Freeze on Zimbabwe deportations
14 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Zimbabwe asylum rethink signalled
12 Jan 02 | Africa
Mugabe renews attack on Britain
11 Jan 02 | Media reports
Zimbabwe press debates new bills
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