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Mugabe's party attacks archbishop


BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe -- A spokesman for Robert Mugabe's party has branded a prominent Roman Catholic archbishop "a mad, inveterate liar" after he called for street protests aimed at overthrowing the long-time ruler.

Pius Ncube, bishop of Zimbabwe's second-largest city of Bulawayo, and an outspoken critic of Mugabe, told reporters that parliamentary elections due to be held Thursday were certain to be rigged.

ZANU-PF information secretary Nathan Shamuyarira, a retired foreign minister, attacked Ncube's calls for "a non-violent popular uprising" if the elections fail to unseat the government.

"He is a mad, inveterate liar. He has been lying for the past two years," Shamuyarira said.

Shamuyarira pledged to release figures on distribution of food to drought hit areas of the country that would refute the archbishop's allegations that those suspected of supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change were being denied food aid.

"He, however, fits into the scheme of the British and Americans, who are calling for regime change and are feeding him with these wild ideas," he said.

"Archbishop Ncube's open call for an unconstitutional uprising shows he is an instrument of the West's illegal regime change agenda," he added.

Access to food has become a key issue during the election campaign, with ZANU-PF party chairman John Nkomo telling a weekend rally in Gweru that the government would deal with those responsible for the shortages," the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. reported Monday.

"Employees of the (state monopoly) Grain Marketing Board are causing shortages by withholding grain or selling it on the black market for personal profit," Nkomo was quoted saying.

The marketing board has said it was importing 1.5 million metric tons of maize from neighboring South Africa to ensure "no-one would starve."

The government owned national daily newspaper, The Herald, reported that Shamuyarira had criticized London-based Sky News, which was among news organizations which reported the archbishop's comments.

Shamuyarira said the government would not "take any measures against the news crew," which had been given accreditation to cover the elections, but demanded they substantiate the archbishop's claims.

Representatives of many leading newspapers and media organizations were refused permission to enter Zimbabwe for the poll, according to The Associated Press.

Observers from international bodies and governments that have been critical in the past, including the European Union, Commonwealth, and United States, have been banned.

Under Mugabe's recently passed Public Order and Security Act anyone calling for unauthorized demonstrations or any form of "coercion" of the government faces up to 20 years' imprisonment. Shamuyarira, however, made no threats to have the outspoken archbishop prosecuted.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's main opposition party says it fears voter apathy and lingering concerns about political violence may keep many of its supporters away from the polls.

"Our biggest challenge is that Zimbabweans have never experienced any form of free and fair elections and have had 25 years of broken promises and betrayed dreams," Movement for Democratic Change Information Secretary Paul Themba-Nyathi told Reuters.

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