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US Officials Denounce Zimbabwe's Crackdown on Free Press - 2001-11-10

Zimbabwe's crackdown on independent press is raising hackles at the U.S. State Department. Officials there denounced the arrest Thursday of the editor and the former business chief of the country's only independent daily newspaper, and called on Harare to stop the abuse.

The State Department is calling for an end to the harassment of the free press in Zimbabwe, and says the latest newspaper arrests are only part of what it calls a "regrettable" trend by the government of President Robert Mugabe.

The comments by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher followed the arrest in Harare Thursday of the Daily News editor-in-chief Geoff Nyarota and his colleague Wilf Mbanga on fraud charges. The two were released on bail Friday. But the charges - which their lawyers said were bogus and an effort to suppress the country's only independent daily - remained in place.

It was the third arrest since May for Mr. Nyarota, whose reporting of official corruption and lawlessness have won him accolades abroad and fueled public opposition to the Mugabe government.

State Department spokesman Boucher said the moves against the Daily News staff members are part of a broader pattern of government abuses: "This arrest and related harassment of the free press reflects a regrettable trend in Zimbabwe, framed by the deterioration of the rule of law and state sponsored violence directed against the political opposition. The United States continues to call on the government of Zimbabwe to cease its harassment of the free press, re-establish the rule of law, and take steps to ensure that the will of the people is respected in the upcoming presidential election," he said.

The newspaper arrests came amid reports that militants loyal to Mr. Mugabe had resumed attacks on white-owned farms in the countryside a campaign that has been waged intermittently since early last year, and also drawn strong U.S. criticism.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and other top U.S. officials have publicly suggested that Mr. Mugabe who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 step aside when his current term expires next year.