Rowan Williams tells Robert Mugabe to end persecution of Christians


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The Independent Online

It was controversial enough before it had even happened, so the Archbishop of Canterbury could perhaps be excused for looking a little awkward as he came face to face with Robert Mugabe for the most scrutinised handshake of his career.

Prince Charles and the former Labour Foreign Minister Jack Straw have both shaken hands with the Zimbabwean leader, each protesting afterwards that they hadn't really meant to. For Dr Rowan Williams, who has described his "healing" visit as an opportunity to confront the persecution of Anglicans in the country, it was important not to appear to be lending legitimacy to one of the world's most notorious rulers.

Mr Mugabe was the keener party of the encounter and, while looking to the cameras, he and Dr Williams's hands played out a diplomatic charade – at one point their little fingers appeared to become linked. But as they parted, there had been no real shake.

While in Zimbabwe's capital city, Harare, Dr Williams, alongside the Archbishops of Central Africa and Southern Africa and the president of the All Africa Conference of Churches the Archbishop of Tanzania, presented Mr Mugabe with a dossier of complaints about the treatment of Anglicans.

They are angry that services have been broken up and Anglicans intimidated in what they regard as a state-sponsored campaign against the church.

Dr Williams had accused the Mugabe regime of "greed and violence" to a congregation of more than 10,000 at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday. The dossier presented yesterday continued in the same vein. "This has been a time of immense trial," the Archbishops said in a statement after the meeting.

"Since 2007, Anglican congregations in Zimbabwe have suffered serious persecution at the hands of the police. They have been intimidated. Their churches have been closed. Properties, including schools and clinics, have been seized.

"Today we were able to present President Mugabe with a dossier compiled by the Bishops in Zimbabwe which gives a full account of the abuses to which our people and our church has been subject.

"We have asked, in the clearest possible terms, that the President use his powers as Head of State to put an end to all unacceptable and illegal behaviour."

Mr Mugabe's response is awaited but before the meeting he had made it clear he would subject the Archbishop to a grilling on the church's silence on Western sanctions against Zimbabwe and his attitude towards homosexuality.

Much of the intimidation of Anglicans has been led by Nolbert Kunonga, an ex-communicated Bishop who regards Mr Mugabe as a "prophet of God". He has led efforts to seize Anglican property, including the main cathedral and bank accounts.