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Anger over Zimbabwe sanctions

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Zimbabwe has denounced a European Union decision to impose sanctions on President Robert Mugabe as "organised economic terrorism."

The EU issued a visa ban on Mugabe and his top 19 officials on Monday, froze their overseas assets and agreed to withdraw its team of monitors sent to scrutinise Zimbabwe's presidential election after Harare expelled the head of the observers' mission on Saturday.

In a stinging attack on the EU, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said the EU was hiding behind the cover of democracy in a desperate fight to protect the position of minority whites in black-ruled Zimbabwe.

"It is very clear that what we are now dealing with is organised economic terrorism whose aim is clear and is to unseat

a legitimately elected government which has decided to defend its national independence and national sovereignty," he said.

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"It is a shame for such a mighty region, for a whole continent to descend on a small country in such a personalised manner," Moyo told Reuters.

The unanimous decision by the 15 ministers came after the EU's observer, Pierre Schori, gave them a report on the situation in Zimbabwe.

Schori, a Swede, was expelled from the country at the weekend after he was told he had shown "political arrogance."

He said changes since 2000 included an increase in violence, especially in urban areas, with agencies interfering in the election campaign.

The mission was monitored by the Zimbabwe secret service and immigration officials entered its offices without permission, leading to an "unpredictable situation as far as restrictions" for the mission members were concerned, Schori said.

"There was no room for a credible EU election observation and I concluded that with sadness."

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EU Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin told CNN it was a difficult decision to make.

"The Government of Zimbabwe is encouraging conditions that make it very hard for us to live up to our own high standards. It damages the credibility of our observation mission and we want to make sure with election observations in the future that our reputation is untarnished."

She said it was important to have observers at the election because Zimbabweans had made it clear they wanted them to feel safe enough to vote.

The EU wanted Schori to head a team of about 30 observers during next month's presidential election.

The sanctions will affect Mugabe and 19 of his key ministers and include visa restrictions on travelling to the EU and the freezing of assets in accounts in EU member states.

Officials said the EU would cut off $110 million in development aid for the 2002-2007 period.

The EU commissioner of external affairs Chris Patten told CNN that the sanctions were aimed at specific individuals, "rather than the (Zimbabwe) people themselves."

The restrictions on media and the increasing violence meant there was "less and less hope" of a free election, Patten said.

However, he said the EU still wanted to work with Zimbabwe as it was a country full of potential.

CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said the EU foreign ministers had faced a very difficult choice.

"They had been bending over backwards and had been for some time to keep an observer mission going in Zimbabwe. But it had reached the point where there had been so many provocations from Mr Mugabe and his regime, so many restrictions placed on the observers that they really had to act if they were going to retain any credibility."

Oakley added that the EU was reluctant to take the action "as they did want to do everything they could to minimise the fear of repression that is going on in the conduct of those elections."

A senior Zimbabwe government official, talking about Schori's expulsion, said: "Schori is in breach of his visa conditions. He is guilty of trying to impose himself on our electoral process.

"He is guilty of political arrogance and of insulting behaviour and this cannot continue. He is not welcome, he cannot stay."

Zimbabwe's parliament passed a tough new media bill two weeks ago that restricts access for foreign reporters and imposes tight controls on the local media in the run-up to the poll.

As the meeting in Brussels convened behind closed doors on Monday, in Harare, hundreds of Mugabe supporters hurled stones at the headquarters of Zimbabwe's opposition party.

Reuters said riot police arrested dozens of demonstrators outside the main office of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Witnesses said windows were smashed and pedestrians forced to flee.

The attack came after a large crowd of supporters marched on the British high commission.

A Foreign Office spokesman in London told CNN: "We can confirm there was a demonstration outside the British High Commission but it has not dispersed."

He said that despite the protest, the commission remains open for business.



 
 
 
 





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