By Stella Mapenzauswa
Harare - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has accused Britain's Tony Blair of endorsing opposition rival Morgan Tsvangirai in next week's election, saying the country's former colonial rulers can "go to hell".
Mugabe's latest volley against Britain came on the eve of a weekend Commonwealth summit where Blair was expected to call for immediate sanctions against Harare in response to government intimidation ahead of the March 9-10 presidential poll.
Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), poses the strongest challenge to Mugabe since he led his Zanu-PF party to power 22 years ago.
Mugabe, quoted by the official Herald newspaper on Friday, told a rally in Guruve in northern Zimbabwe on Thursday that Blair had shown his bias towards the opposition in comments to the British parliament.
"Blair stood in parliament unashamedly to say the British government should stay ready to recognise and support the victory of MDC and should not stay ready to recognise the victory of Zanu-PF," Mugabe was quoted as saying.
"But of course we say: 'Go to hell'. Go to hell, our people have decided and that is what matters to us. It's not the right or responsibility of the British to decide on our elections. We don't decide on theirs and why should they poke their pink noses in our business?"
In his comments on Wednesday, Blair accused Mugabe of acting like a dictator and said Britain would push for action against him at a Commonwealth summit this weekend.
Tension is rising in Zimbabwe, where at least nine opposition members were injured on Thursday during a raid in which police arrested 38 people who had been involved in a clash with supporters of Mugabe.
Opponents accuse Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party of instigating a wave of violence against supporters of Tsvangirai, who has been accused of treason after a videotape purported to show him discussing a plot against Mugabe.
Tsvangirai has denied the charge and sued an Australian television station for broadcasting the tape.
"What is happening in Zimbabwe is an outrage," Blair told parliament.
"The actions of Robert Mugabe are completely undemocratic and wrong and dictatorial, and it is for that reason that we argued with others inside the European Union for sanctions to be applied. We will make the same case at the Commonwealth."
Speaking to reporters on Friday during his flight to Australia, Blair said Tsvangirai could still win the election despite what he said was serious government intimidation.
Blair has gone out on a limb within the Commonwealth in calling for sanctions after he failed to win support for Zimbabwe's suspension at a ministerial meeting in London in January. Officials concede that they are unlikely to convince the Commonwealth to act against Mugabe before the elections.
The United States on Thursday blasted what it called a "campaign of repression orchestrated by the government of Zimbabwe" and warned Mugabe that he faced financial sanctions if he failed to respect the will of his people in the elections.
Mugabe is not expected to attend the Commonwealth summit, which will be opened by Britain's Queen Elizabeth on Saturday. But the deteriorating situation in his country is likely to overshadow efforts by the group, representing 1,7-billion people, to tackle terrorism and promote sustainable development.