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Bishop says he will face bullets to force change in Zim
Mail & Guardian (SA)
March 22, 2007

A top Zimbabwean Roman Catholic cleric said on Thursday he was ready to face bullets in anti-government street protests to help restore the rule of law in President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

Pius Ncube, archbishop of the southern Bulawayo diocese, told a news conference that Zimbabweans must take to the streets over rights abuses by Mugabe's government, facing international criticism over a crackdown on the opposition.

"The biggest problem with Zimbabweans is they are cowards, myself included, but as for me I am ready to stand in front, even of blazing guns," he said.

"If only Zimbabweans are prepared to stand, so am I prepared to stand ... We are not going to be bullied," Ncube said.

Ncube accused the government of maintaining an "ugly oppressive" system and denying citizens basic rights.

"Human rights are God-given. No one has a right to just trample over them ... people are justified to practice non-violent civil disobedience," Ncube said.

"Starvation stalks our land and [our] government does nothing to correct our situation. People are angry now and should stand up, fill the streets and demand that this man [Mugabe] steps down now," he added.

Ncube was speaking at a news conference called by Christian Alliance, a group of church leaders who are part of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, the organisers of a prayer meeting at which opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and 49 others were arrested almost two weeks ago.

The opposition officials have said they were severely assaulted in police custody and images of a bruised and cut Tsvangirai sparked a world outcry against Mugabe's government.

The government has cracked down on protests using strict security laws which bar political gatherings without police clearance.

Meanwhile, Britain has begun preparations to work with a new government in Zimbabwe once Mugabe leaves office, a Foreign Office spokesperson told Agence France-Presse on Thursday.

"We're beginning to think about what we could contribute following a transition and we're preparing support options including economic and humanitarian activity," she said.

The spokesperson declined to give further details.

Unnamed senior officials at the Foreign Office, meanwhile, believe that 2007 may be a "pivotal" year for Zimbabwe, Britain's Press Association news agency reported on Thursday.

The former colonial power is looking to the future as international pressure on Mugabe builds following increased violence against the opposition and an economy heading for collapse.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Wednesday that he wanted the European Union to widen political sanctions against the regime, which were brought in 2002.

And Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has called for action from the United Nations Security Council and the UN Human Rights Commission.

The leader of the lower House of Commons Jack Straw said on Thursday that a Foreign Office minister would make a statement on the situation in Zimbabwe to Parliament on Monday.

Blair on Wednesday called recent events "appalling, disgraceful and utterly tragic for the people of Zimbabwe".

Mugabe's Zanu-PF says that the existing sanctions hurt ordinary people and has accused countries, including Britain and the United States, of a personal vendetta against the 83-year-old president. -- Reuters, AFP

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