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Harare shrugs off bishops' warning of mass revolt
April 10, 2007

HARARE – Zimbabwe Catholic bishops have called on President Robert Mugabe to embrace democracy or face revolt but Harare immediately shrugged off the pastoral appeal as mere opinion of the bishops that they were free to express because Zimbabwe is a "free country".

In an unprecedented Easter Sunday message to Mugabe, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) warned of rising anger among a populace suffering worsening economic hardships and boldly predicted mass uprising unless the government conducted democratic elections next year.

"The confrontation in our country has now reached a flashpoint," the ZCBC said in the pastoral letter entitled, "God Hears the Cries of the Oppressed."

The letter, which drew similarities between human rights violations by state agents to the oppression of biblical pharos and Egyptian slave masters, warned of a cycle of violence steadily engulfing the nation with public anger "now erupting into open revolt in one township after another."

"In order to avoid further bloodshed and avert a mass uprising, the nation needs a new people-driven constitution that will guide a democratic leadership chosen in free and fair elections," said the bishops’ letter that was posted on doors and notice boards of churches across the country.

But Information Minister and chief government spokesman Sikhanyiso Ndlovu on Monday downplayed the pastoral letter, instead choosing to highlight the fact that the bishops were able to go public with such a letter only because Zimbabwe was a "free country" in which citizens could freely express their opinions.

"The churches are free to say what they like," said Ndlovu. He shrugged off the clergymen’s warning of possible uprising if the government did not conduct democratic elections next year, saying Zimbabwe had its own way of changing governments, which was not through mass revolt.

"We have got a process for changing governments and electing leaders. We are preparing for elections," Ndlovu said.

But the Catholic bishops, who have criticised Mugabe’s government before but not in such strong terms, appeared to set themselves for conflict with state security agents when they called for a national prayer meeting on April 14 to seek divine intervention in Zimbabwe’s long-running political and economic crisis.

A similar prayer meeting last month called by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party and some churches was violently broken up by security forces who beat up and tortured dozens of MDC activists including party leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mugabe, who has always defended his security forces for assaulting his opponents, publicly declared that those beaten during the aborted prayer rally deserved the punishment for disobeying police orders not to go ahead with the meeting.

The ZCBC letter to Mugabe – himself a devout Catholic - comes as Pope Benedict XVI mentioned Zimbabwe’s grievous crisis in his Easter address.

Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since its 1980 independence from Britain but critics say his controversial policies are responsible for an economic meltdown, which has left the majority of the country’s 12 million people mired in poverty as unemployment rockets and inflation surges to nearly 2 000 percent.

The 83-year old Mugabe, who last month won endorsement from his ruling ZANU PF party to stand for another five-year presidential term in next year’s election, denies mismanaging Zimbabwe and instead accuses his enemies of sabotaging his country's once brilliant economy. - ZimOnline

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