Zimbabwe to strip passports from whites with UK past

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe yesterday stepped up pressure on the country's white minority, announcing that many people with links to Britain had been stripped of their Zimbabwean citizenship, and would have to hand in their passports.

Zimbabwe has banned dual citizenship since 1985, and to obtain Zimbabwean passports, many whites made formal renunciation of their British citizenship. The Harare government is now pointing out that such statements have no legal effect in Britain, and is saying that it intends to treat these renunciations as evidence of dual citizenship. Since the beginning of the present crisis, some 86,000 white Zimbabweans have applied for British citizenship papers. Britain said earlier this year it would take in about 20,000 white Zimbabweans with hereditary claims to British nationality.

"The British nationals ineffectively renounced British citizenship in the form and manner prescribed by the Zimbabwe Citizenship Law," the Zimbabwe Citizenship Office was quoted as saying in The Herald, a state-controlled newspaper. "They are, therefore, deemed residents and not citizens of Zimbabwe. These people who have not renounced, must surrender all Zimbabwe passports because they are now citizens of the United Kingdom."

"This citizenship eligibility thing was raised 15 years ago and dropped immediately after the elections. This is basically meant to stop us white folks from being part of the political processes," said Keith Battye, a resident of Harare. The move is likely to increase tension with Britain, just ahead of a visit to Zimbabwe by the Commonwealth secretary-general, Don McKinnon, who arrives tomorrow and is expected to hold talks with President Robert Mugabe. The official purpose of the visit is to discuss arrangements for elections, due next month, but the question of the country's land crisis is sure to be discussed.

On Friday, after taking part in a day-long meeting between white farmers' representatives and the war veterans who have occupied their land, Mr Mugabe issued his clearest condemnation of the violence which has claimed 19 lives in recent weeks. His comments were treated with scepticism, however, by Roy Bennett, a coffee and cattle farmer whose land was occupied last week. The land issue would not be settled before parliamentary elections expected in June, Mr Bennett said yesterday: "Mugabe and Zanu-PF are fully aware they have no support in this country ... He doesn't want the land issue to go away before the elections."

After an emergency meeting yesterday, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of Zimbabwe's embattled opposition Movement For Democratic Change (MDC), condemned the passport announcement as "illegal" and "intimidatory". He said the MDC had decided to contest the elections despite what he described as a campaign of "state sponsored violence" by the ruling party, veterans, and a "third force" of army and state security members.

The party was planning a programme of unspecified mass action to protest against the violence and rapid economic decline. "In the past three months over 50,000 jobs have been lost in industry and 150,000 have been lost in the agricultural sector," said Mr Tsvangirai. "Further job losses are looming in the agricultural sector where the winter crop has not been planted. The knock-on effects to industry will be disastrous."

Yesterday police and war veterans bussed into Harare chased participants away from a planned rally to press Mr Mugabe's government to end the violence of the past three months. Police had granted permission for the rally at the Harare Sports Centre, but two trucks of war veterans armed with sticks and iron bars drove away members of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) who arrived to prepare for the rally.

"Our government has become a fascist government. The real danger of the fascism of Robert Mugabe is the breakup of the Zimbabwean nation state," said Tendai Biti, legal secretary for the NCA, who addressed a crowd of about 100 people who later gathered at the rally site. He argued that by using violence to deny democratic change, Mugabe was driving the nation toward violent upheaval.