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1966: UK politicians assaulted in Rhodesia

Three visiting members of the British parliament have been attacked at a meeting in a hotel in Salisbury, the capital of Rhodesia.

Labour MPs Christopher Rowland, Jeremy Bray and David Ennals are on a private fact-finding mission in the southern African country that illegally declared independence from Britain last year.

Mr Rowland had arranged what was to be a question-and-answer session with supporters of Ian Smith, Rhodesia's prime minister.

But heckling among the 400 or so people who attended turned to violence and police had to break up the meeting and rescue the politicians from the shouting mob.

'Good Old Smithy'

At one point Mr Rowland, MP for Meriden in Warwickshire, lunged across a table to get back some his papers that had been taken by a member of the audience.

He fell down and was kicked, punched and had a jug of water poured over him.

Mr Bray, MP for Middlesbrough, was also jostled as he tried to help his colleague.

Special branch police moved in to hustle the three MPs to safety.

There was a large contingent of members of the pro-Smith Rhodesian Front and the left-wing Candour League who interrupted the session with shouts of "Good old Smithy".

When the British MPs tried to answer questions raised their voices were drowned out by shouts of "Liar! Liar!" and "Rotten swine" and "Go to hell".

They were called "dirty representatives of communism" and at one point were asked if they had ever been members of the Communist Party. Mr Rowland replied "no" but was greeted with the response "Communist, Communist."

As the meeting became noisier, the MPs appealed for calm but to no avail.

Tonight the three men issued a statement saying they had since received written apologies from some Rhodesians who said the "disgusting reception" was "not typical of supporters of Rhodesia".

The statement said: "We regret tonight's incident mainly because of the impression it will convey to the world outside in an already difficult situation."

The authorities in Rhodesia said pointed out that the meeting was illegal under emergency laws which ban public meetings of more than 12 people without government permission.

The deputy Minister of Information, Pieter van der Byl, said the MPs should have accepted his invitation to organise a programme for them during their visit.

In Context
Ian Smith's illegal declaration of independence in 1965 led to international economic sanctions. Britain under Harold Wilson had hoped to guide Rhodesia to black majority rule in line with the rest of the African continent.

By 1971, Edward Heath was prime minister of Britain and, behind the scenes, negotiations were held with Ian Smith's regime to organise a legal settlement that would ensure the equality of land rights between Africans and Europeans.

Mr Smith's party, the Rhodesian Front, overwhelmingly won elections in 1970 and 1974, as government clashes with black nationalist guerrilla fighters intensified.

In 1977, Smith succumbed to sanctions and the high cost of war and agreed to negotiate a transition to black majority rule.

Robert Mugabe was elected prime minister of an independent Zimbabwe in 1980 under a new constitution.


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