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Rights Groups to Issue Ultimatum to Zimbabwe - 2001-08-05

Human rights groups in Zimbabwe are to issue an ultimatum to the government to bring about immediate political and social change or face peaceful national protest and civil disobedience.

Final details of the ultimatum to the Zimbabwe government will be decided Monday, following a weekend meeting of 200 church, political and civic rights groups.

Among the demands likely to be put to the government are an end to invasions and violence on commercial farms, the disbanding of the secret police, and compliance with judgments by the courts.

The government has ignored court rulings that invasions and seizures of farms are illegal.

The meeting called for a halt to what was described as state-sponsored intimidation and violence. The 1,500 delegates also urged the government of President Robert Mugabe to revive the economy and control huge overspending.

Economists say that more than half the national work force is out of a job and predict that inflation could reach more than 100 percent by the end of the year.

Political scientist Brian Raftopolous, one of the conference organizers, says the country is on what he calls a knife edge. He says the test of a political transition is upon them as a nation, and the failure to deal with this challenge could lead to a heightened civil conflict within the next year.

The government has already rejected the findings of the conference. Nathan Shamyuarira, a senior adviser to President Mugabe, accused the organizers of being agents of foreign countries wanting to overthrow the government.

John Makumbe, head of human rights watchdog group in Zimbabwe, Transparency International, says there is particular concern that presidential elections next year must be free and fair.

President Mugabe is being challenged by Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change.