Harare accuses Hain of bid to topple Mugabe

Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister accused the Foreign Office minister Peter Hain of orchestrating a campaign aimed at toppling President Robert Mugabe.

Stan Mudenge attacked Mr Hain for his "preconceived and premeditated agenda of demonising and ostracising Zimbabwe and its leadership." Mr Hain was a "racist", a "loose cannon" and a "Cassandra of Doom". The diatribe was in an article Mr Mudenge wrote for the Independent group two weeks after a British diplomatic shipment in Harare was opened on Mr Mugabe's orders.

Mr Hain's characterisation of the incident as highlighting the "paranoia" of the "uncivilised" Mugabe regime had been "very much in line with a pattern of developments in present Zimbabwe-UK relations," Mr Mudenge writes, adding that "it is now established" that meetings had taken place in London, Brussels and elsewhere "to discuss ways and means of toppling President Mugabe".

This was to be done, Mr Mudenge said, "by inciting political and economic instability, including sponsoring new political formations" in Zimbabwe.

As part of Mr Hain's "unprecedented anti-Zimbabwe crusade," Mr Mudenge pointed to criticism of Zimbabwe's constitutional referendum last month and the government's plans to redistribute land owned by white farmers.

"Rather than supporting efforts to redress the glaring injustices in the current land- tenure system, the British government has sought to manipulate international opinion by mischievously suggesting that Zimbabwe is grabbing 'white land.' This is racist nonsense."

Mr Mudenge also accused Mr Hain of trying to influence the International Monetary Fund and the donor community in general to prevent the disbursement of funds to Zimbabwe. Mr Mudenge said that after initially putting down to inexperience the Foreign Office minister's "one-man mission of vilification" he could no longer ignore the utterances of Britain's "Cassandra of Doom". Mr Mudenge described as "extraordinary, to put it mildly" Mr Hain's interference in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe, where elections are expected next month.

Relations between Britain and Zimbabwe have been strained since autumn, when the gay activist Peter Tatchell tried to stage a citizen's arrest while Mr Mugabe was doing his Christmas shopping in London. The president subsequently accused the Blair government of being in the hands of "gay gangsters".

Referring to the incident involving the seven-ton diplomatic consignment opened in Harare this month, Mr Mudenge said Britain had falsely claimed the contents were protected by diplomatic immunity.

While "diplomatic bags" may not be "opened or detained" under the Vienna convention, "diplomatic cargo" does not carry such a ban, he said. Given its size, customs officials were right to treat the crates as diplomatic cargo. The consignment comprised communications equipment. British officials said that, far from being spying equipment, as Zimbabwean officials apparently believed, it was "routine equipment" to protect the High Commission's phones and faxes from eavesdropping.

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