West to 'keep heat on Mugabe'

Both Britain and the United States have called for more sanctions against Mr Mugabe's government because of what they say was a violent crackdown on opposition leaders and the severe economic crisis they blame on state mismanagement.

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Zimbabwe Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi on Monday warned Western envoys in Harare the government would not hesitate to expel those who backed opposition politics.

"Such threats will not deter the UK from speaking out against the continued misgovernance and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe," a British Foreign Office official told Reuters.

Zimbabwe officials have not said which countries could be targeted for expulsion but they are thought to include Britain, the United States, Australia and Sweden.

Mr Mugabe last week told his Western critics "to go hang" and ordered Mumbengegwi to "read the riot act" to Western envoys.

Police arrested main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and 49 others on March 11, accusing them of holding an illegal rally.

Mr Tsvangirai and several others were later hospitalised – they said they had been beaten and tortured in custody.

"With the international community, we are pressing (Mugabe) to reverse course and end human rights abuses and political violence," said British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett.

The European Union recently renewed a range of sanctions including an arms embargo, travel ban and asset freeze on Mr Mugabe and other government officials.

The EU's executive has allocated nearly €3 million euros ($A5 million) for ongoing projects in Zimbabwe that support local democracy, human rights defenders and media monitoring.

"We do not support the opposition as such but (help) so that the opposition and the civil society can express themselves freely," European Commission aid spokesman Amadeu Altafaj said.

"If this is interpreted by the government as supporting the opposition it shows there is something wrong."

Britain is trying to persuade EU colleagues to extend sanctions against Zimbabwe and has demanded direct action against those responsible for Mr Tsvangirai's injuries.

Zimbabwe has been relying on food aid from UN agencies and western powers for the last six years as a result of a sharp drop in agricultural production that critics blame on Mr Mugabe's seizures of white-owned farms for distribution to blacks.

Once southern Africa's bread basket, the country is struggling with inflation of more than 1,700 per cent, frequent food and fuel shortages and unemployment of about 80 per cent.

Britain said the threat to expel envoys would not stop it supporting ordinary Zimbabweans in any way possible, including the delivery of "substantial humanitarian assistance".

US urges South Africa

Meanwhile the US has urged South Africa to help international efforts to end a violent crackdown on the political opposition.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised the issue during a phone call with her South African counterpart, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, on Friday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"One thing we are looking for from the South African government is to lend their voice to efforts to stop the political violence that is ongoing in Zimbabwe," Mr McCormack said.

South Africa, the regional powerhouse, has been widely criticised for not doing more to curb the crackdown.

It has long pursued a policy of "quiet diplomacy" towards its northern neighbour, and has called for Zimbabwe to respect the rights of all its citizens but the comments stop short of expressions of outrage.

'Mugabe at tipping point'

The US ambassador to Zimbabwe says President Mugabe has reached a tipping point in Zimbabwe because the people no longer fear the regime and believe they have nothing left to lose.

Christopher Dell said in an interview with the Associated Press that the government and the party were in disarray, could no longer govern effectively and that growing numbers within the regime and the party wanted Mr Mugabe to step down.

Many of the elements often associated with a coup or revolution are present in Zimbabwe, said Mr Dell, who stressed he was not advocating or predicting any violent overthrow of the government.

But he noted there was disaffection within the ruling party, the military and a split in security forces. The economy is in freefall and the people believe the government is taking away their last hope.

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