UK urged not to make Mugabe a martyr

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has warned that British ministers have risked making a martyr out of President Robert Mugabe by being too harsh in their criticism of him.

Mr Tsvangirai, who was today addressing a rally of supporters in London, said Mr Mugabe was using land seizures to boost his own political popularity before elections by creating a row with the old colonial ruler.

Mr Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, said British ministers had now agreed to tone down their language after weeks of angry attacks on Mr Mugabe over his support for black squatters taking over white farms.

"We must be very careful that we don't push Mr Mugabe to the extent of being a martyr at this stage, because that's exactly what he is looking for," he told the BBC.

"He is history anyway, so why push him to the extent where you are likely to resuscitate his image?"

Foreign office minister Peter Hain said: "We agree with him. The British Government has sought throughout a constructive dialogue with Zimbabwe over land reform.

"There are some positive signs and I hope that dialogue can move forward. It is important for Zimbabwe that the forthcoming elections are free and fair."

After meeting Mr Tsvangirai yesterday, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Britain wanted "dialogue and co-operation" with whoever won the forthcoming elections.

He said: "I set out our position that Britain would support a genuine land reform programme which would benefit the rural poor and provide fair compensation to those farmers willing to sell land.

"Whichever party wins the forthcoming elections, we will seek to take forward dialogue and co-operation on land. Meanwhile our priority is to ensure the rule of law is upheld and the rights of all people of Zimbabwe is respected."

A spokesman for Mr Tsvangirai described the meeting as "very constructive" and said both sides had seen "eye to eye on the appropriate way forward".

But, speaking earlier, the opposition leader said in a meeting with junior Foreign Office minister Peter Hain there had been an admission from British ministers that they had been "a little bit harsh" in their previous criticism.

Mr Tsvangirai said he and Mr Hain had agreed "to tone down condemnations and engage Robert Mugabe".

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