Last UK journalist in Zimbabwe told to leave the country

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The Independent Online

The last resident British newspaper correspondent in Zimbabwe has been told to leave the country, marking the latest blow by President Robert Mugabe to freedom of expression.

David Blair, who writes for The Daily Telegraph, is the third foreign journalist to be asked to leave this year. He was given no reasons for the government's decision not to renew his work permit which expires on 16 July.

Mr Blair, 28, said he intended to move out of his house in Harare immediately because he feared receiving the same treatment as BBC correspondent Joseph Winter who was expelled in February. "Four men came to his house at four in the morning and threatened his wife and child. I am mindful of that," said Blair, who has been prolific in his two years in Harare and is greatly respected by colleagues.

He said he had not suffered any personal attacks but added: "Working has become increasingly difficult against the background of constant attacks on the media. Most recently we were referred to as 'merchants of violence'.''

Amid economic decline, electoral violence, land occupations and a range of seemingly irrational political decisions, President Mugabe has become irritated with the media since his ruling party lost a referendum on constitutional reform in February last year.

The printing plant of a leading opposition newspaper was burnt to the ground and journalists have faced sedition charges for publishing stories.

The Daily Telegraph's foreign editor, Alec Russell, said: "This is effectively expulsion. It is an utter blow. David's reporting has been admirably objective. Clearly he became a permanent irritant."

On Tuesday, Russell wrote in a letter to the Zimbabwean Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo: "The last Daily Telegraph correspondent to be expelled by an African government was in 1972 by Idi Amin [of Uganda]. Such odious comparisons would surely not promote Zimbabwe's interest."

It is not clear what will happen to other resident journalists working for British newspapers, especially The Guardian's Andrew Meldrum who has United States nationality. The resident correspondents of The Independent and The Times are Zimbabwe nationals.

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