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Zimbabwe: U.S. sanctions 'racist'

Zimbabwean women Saturday protest the country's political situation.
Zimbabwean women Saturday protest the country's political situation.

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HARARE, Zimbabwe (Reuters) -- A senior Zimbabwean official condemned on Saturday a U.S. decision to impose sanctions on the leadership as part of a "white racist" attack on a government he said was fighting for the interests of its black majority.

U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday imposed economic sanctions on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and 76 other high-ranking government officials, accusing them of undermining democracy in the impoverished southern African country.

Bush, following the lead of the European Union, issued an executive order freezing their assets and barring Americans from engaging in any transactions or dealings with them.

The Zimbabwean official said the new sanctions were part of a well-coordinated attack on Mugabe by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who he said was angry over Mugabe's seizures of white-owned farms in Zimbabwe, a former British colony.

"All these sanctions being imposed on us are unjustified because they are part of a racist campaign against our land reform programme," said the official, who declined to be named.

"This is not about democracy, human rights or about any concern for the welfare of blacks. This is about our land and heritage," he told Reuters.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) welcomed the U.S. sanctions, saying they represented a principled stand against tyranny.

Mugabe has been under fire from the West over the alleged rigging of an election last year and the persecution of political foes, as well as the seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks.

The United States, the Commonwealth and the European Union, encouraged by rights groups, have all imposed some travel, aid and economic sanctions on Zimbabwe.

Blair has been particularly critical of Mugabe, leading opposition to the Zimbabwean government in the European Union.

In a statement on Friday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the situation in Zimbabwe "endangers the southern African region" and threatens to undermine democratic reforms throughout the continent.

The White House stressed that the sanctions were not aimed at the people of Zimbabwe, and that it was "working diligently" with its international partners to ensure that adequate food supplies are made available to Zimbabweans in need.

MDC spokesman Paul Themba-Nyathi said "We welcome these new sanctions heartily because they are going to send a clear and unequivocal message to Mugabe and his cronies that decent governments are not going to tolerate his tyranny."

"It is a message that a government that tortures its own people as a matter of course must suffer serious sanctions, and be isolated," he told Reuters.

In February, the EU renewed targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his close associates for one year. The measures include a visa ban, an arms embargo and a freeze on the assets of senior government officials.

Last month Mugabe launched a blistering attack on Bush and Blair, branding them imperialists who wanted to impose a new form of colonialism on developing countries.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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