Zimbabwe accuses Britain of using epidemic to support invasion


Zimbabwe's government has accused former colonial ruler Britain of using a cholera epidemic to rally Western support for an invasion of the collapsing southern African nation, a state-run newspaper said today.

President Robert Mugabe is under mounting pressure from the international community, especially Western nations which accuse him of ruining the once prosperous country and exposing its people to famine and disease.

British prime minister Gordon Brown has branded Mugabe's government a "blood-stained regime" and said it was responsible for the cholera epidemic that has killed at least 575 people. The world must tell Mr Mugabe "enough is enough", he said.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday the veteran leader's departure from office was long overdue.

"I don't know what this mad prime minister (Brown) is talking about. He is asking for an invasion of Zimbabwe ... but he will come unstuck,"Mr Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba told the state-controlled Sunday Mail.

The growing Western criticism signalled a plot to oust Mr Mugabe's government militarily, Mr Charamba said.

The government often blames Britain and other Western nations for Zimbabwe's economic meltdown, saying that targeted sanctions against Mr Mugabe and his inner circle have sabotaged the economy.

African nations are also growing more uncomfortable with Mr Mugabe, though they still view the 84-year-old as a hero of Africa's liberation era.

Kenyan prime minister Raila Odinga and Botswanan foreign minister Phandu Skelemani have called for his removal, as has South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel laureate.

Archbishop of York John Sentanu agreed but went further, writing in the Observer weekly that "Mugabe and his henchmen" should face trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. "The time to remove them from power has come."

Douglas Alexander, Britain's international development secretary, said today it was important that Africans led the opposition to Mr Mugabe's government.

"Now is the time for Africa to stand up and be counted. The old bonds of the liberation struggle must give way to the common bond of humanity," he said in a statement.

Zimbabwe is on the verge of collapse. Food stocks are running out, unemployment is above 80 percent and prices double every 24 hours. The health system is in tatters, unable to treat many of those infected with cholera.

The epidemic has forced Zimbabwe to declare a national emergency and appeal for foreign help. Britain is among European nations that have promised aid. South Africa, Zimbabwe's richest neighbour, has also pledged aid and officials will assess the scale of the crisis on tomorrow.