Mugabe in new jibe at Blair's `gay gangsters'

PRESIDENT ROBERT Mugabe yesterday renewed an attack on the "gay gangsters" running Tony Blair's government and claimed his country, Zimbabwe, had a better a human rights record than Britain.

The president's latest outburst against Britain, at a lunch buffet during the Comonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in the South African port of Durban, overshadowed the election of a new secretary-general to the organisation, and discussions over punitive action against the military junta which last month took power in Pakistan.

The 54-nation body - currently reduced to 53 countries because Pakistan has been suspended - elected 60-year-old Don McKinnon, a former New Zealand foreign minister, to succeed Emeka Anyaoku who was appointed in 1990 as secretary-general, and will retire at the end of March.

Prolonging a spat which Britain hoped was over, President Mugabe accused gay members of the British cabinet of having plotted with activists to humiliate him in London two weeks ago.

President Mugabe, who is infamous for his homophobic remarks, said: "There are gays in that government. Britain is worse than Zimbabwe in many ways. We do not discriminate against anyone."

Five years ago President Mugabe described gays as being "worse than dogs and pigs". During a shopping visit to London at the beginning of this month with his wife, Grace, Mr Mugabe was the subject of a "citizen's arrest" by Peter Tatchell's gay group, Outrage!, on charges of torture.

Tony Blair's spokesman, Alastair Campbell, who expects the Prime Minister to "bump into" President Mugabe this weekend at a heads of government conference retreat, said "we don't get too wound up about this".

But the row intensified yesterday with Mr Mugabe's bitter attack on Britain. `'Tatchell can come to Zimbabwe as long as he does not try to organise homosexuals. British ministers can still visit Zimbabwe" the president said.

But he added that the former Conservative government was better. "We told them the Conservatives were better, more mature. They are moving Britain away from the path where Britain was the pacemaker and also from a Britain that has a heart," said President Mugabe.

He claimed blacks and Asians in Britain suffer harassment but Ian Smith, the prime minister of Rhodesia - Zimbabwe's pre-independence name - walks unhindered through the streets of the capital, Harare.

Before the Durban conference, Zimbabwe was among four countries singled out by the British Foreign Policy Centre, a think-tank, as deficient in its democracy and human rights record. Mr Tatchell has called for Zimbabwe to be expelled from the Commonwealth.