Former Mugabe ally quits over city demolitions

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A former Zimbabwean MP and state security agent said he had resigned from the ruling Zanu-PF party in protest against President Robert Mugabe's "urban renewal campaign" that has destroyed the homes and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people.

Meanwhile, an African Union (AU) envoy sent to assess the government's hated Operation Murambatsvina - Drive Out Trash - left the country without completing his investigation because the government refused to co-operate with him.

Pearson Mbalekwa, who was once on Zanu-PF's central committee, resigned last week. On Wednesday, police raided a farm he acquired after the government seized thousands of white-owned farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans. The police confiscated the equipment left behind by the farm's previous owner, said Mr Mbalekwa, a retired agent from the feared Central Intelligence Organisation.

"They did not tell me if I have lost the farm," he said. "We were expecting something of that sort."

Mr Mbalekwa said he was angry at the "undemocratic way" Zanu-PF was running its affairs. Besides the demolition campaign, he objected to Mr Mugabe's insistence on appointing Joyce Mujuru as second vice-president late last year. A faction of younger Zanu-PF leaders supported the parliamentary Speaker Emmerson Mnangagwa for the job, seen as placing the incumbent in line to succeed 81-year-old Mr Mugabe.

Mr Mugabe's government has drawn local and international condemnation for the demolitions, which began on 19 May. Humanitarian workers and opposition leaders estimate up to 1.5 million people have been affected by the operation, in which police have torched and bulldozed shanty towns, markets and other structures deemed illegal. Many were forced to destroy their homes at gunpoint. The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change says the campaign is aimed at breaking up its strongholds among the urban poor.

Behare Tom Nyanduga, an AU human rights commissioner, flew to Zimbabwe last week to assess the impact of the evictions. The body has so far refused to intercede, arguing it cannot interfere in the internal affairs of member states.

Mr Nyanduga was told his six-day trip was "a breach of protocol" and was refused government clearance, local rights activists said. He left on Thursday without making any public statements. Government officials have said they are preoccupied with the visit of another envoy sent by the United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan.

Anna Tibaijuka, the Tanzanian head of UN Habitat, has met government and opposition officials, church leaders, civic groups and people affected by the campaign since her arrival in Zimbabwe on 26 June. She has also toured demolition sites and places where the government is proposing to build new homes for "deserving" people.

Ms Tibaijuka acknowledged the need to clean up slums in many African cities at a meeting with government and other officials in the central city of Gweru on Wednesday. But she said that this needed to be a negotiated process with residents whose homes were being destroyed. "We saw people sleeping out there in the cold, in the open," she said. "The issue is not a clean city, but how you clean the city. Cleaning of cities cannot be an event, it has to be a process." AP

* A hunger strike among failed Zimbabwean asylum-seekers has spread, the Home Office confirmed. Of 99 Zimbabweans detained in Britain, 37 were refusing food yesterday in protest against deportation - four more than on Monday.