Mugabe thanks China for standing by him

Harare - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe thanked China on Thursday for supporting his country against Western critics amid signs of growing fatigue in Africa over the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe, 83, told a delegation led by China's construction minister that Zimbabwe would reward China for its backing by supporting Beijing's stance on human rights and the one-China policy.

It was difficult to find friends in the struggle for independence but China had continued to stand with Zimbabwe in the current fight against the big Western powers, state radio quoted Mugabe as saying.

Zimbabwe has come under the international spotlight for the brutal beating of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and several opposition officials when they tried to attend a prayer rally earlier this month.

Several of Zimbabwe's traditionally closest allies have ventured measured criticism of the action, including the African Union and Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa, who this week compared Zimbabwe to a "sinking Titanic".

Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu sought to stem African criticism on Thursday, saying "African countries must not allow themselves to be divided by imperialism".

"Western news networks are demonising Zimbabwe, giving a one-sided perspective," he complained.

The international community has urged Zimbabwe's neighbours in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to try to broker a resolution to the crisis in Zimbabwe but a meeting of SADC Council of Ministers in Lesotho on Thursday steered clear of the issue.

Meanwhile, two opposition officials who had been blocked from travelling abroad last week arrived in South Africa for medical treatment.

Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh arrived in Johannesburg after Harare High Court ruled that they should be allowed to leave Zimbabwe to seek life-saving medical treatment outside the country, South African radio reported.

Holland and Kwinjeh, who were beaten in police custody following their arrest on March 11, were trying to leave for South Africa on a medical air rescue plane on Saturday when police stopped them, sparking international condemnation.

The two were taken briefly to a police station, and then placed under police guard at a Harare clinic.

Opposition activists are using increasingly combative rhetoric to describe their struggle against the government.

Prominent rights activist Lovemore Madhuku, who was badly beaten by police, on Thursday said he was ready to die in the fight for political reform.

"I wish to make it clear to them and others that we are prepared to die for a new constitution," Madhuku, the chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) said in a statement.

Archbishop Pius Ncube urged Zimbabweans to take to the street to protest the government's authoritarianism and declared himself ready to stand "in front of blazing guns".

The usually moderate Zimbabwe Council of Churches Thursday warned that the politically tense situation in the southern African country could degenerate into bloodshed.

"If this state of affairs continues, we foresee a situation that will degenerate into civil unrest where there will be a lot of bloodshed," the council said in a statement.

It also warned that criminal elements could manipulate the situation to carry out criminal activities under the guise of political activity and called for dialogue and tolerance among political parties in the country. - Sapa-dpa

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