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EU Observers Prepare for Withdrawal - 2002-02-19


European Union election observers are preparing to pull out of Zimbabwe, after the EU decided to impose sanctions against President Robert Mugabe's government for refusing to let monitors do their job. AP Pierre Schori talks to reporters in Harare EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, Monday, made their decision after Mr. Mugabe's government expelled Pierre Schori, the Swedish head of the EU election observers team to the March 9 and 10 polls. The sanctions apply to Mr. Mugabe and 19 of his close aides, who will be banned from travel to EU nations and whose European assets will be frozen. In a statement Monday, the EU said humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe would, however, continue and that the sanctions are aimed solely at those deemed responsible for continuing political violence. More than 20 members of the opposition have been reported killed in recent weeks. Zimbabwe's Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, reacted defiantly to the EU action, telling the Reuters News Agency it amounted to "economic terrorism." He accused the European Union of hiding behind the cover of democracy to protect white minority interests in the country. South Africa called the EU sanctions "unfortunate" and "regrettable." Scores of government supporters in the capital, Harare, protested against the sanctions. Witnesses say the demonstrators threw stones at buildings, including the offices of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Zimbabwe has banned election observers from Sweden, Britain, Germany, Denmark, Finland and The Netherlands, alleging they are biased against the Harare government. The Mugabe government has also banned Swedish journalists from entering Zimbabwe to cover the election. Some reporters from other European countries and South Africa have also been rejected. President Mugabe faces his toughest challenge yet in the upcoming election and accuses the foreign media of backing opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai.

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