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Zimbabwe Archbishop Calls for Boycott of Prayer Day

The head of the Roman Catholic church in Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo is calling for a boycott of the country's day of prayer. Some analysts say Mr. Mugabe is splitting Christian churches, pitting pastor against pastor.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is due to take part in a national day of prayer Sunday that is to include several clerics who previously opposed the ruling Zanu PF's policies.

The initiative for the prayer meeting began on May 24, when Mr. Mugabe asked a number of pastors, mainly from the evangelical churches, to meet with him.

Since then a new umbrella organization, the Ecumenical Peace Initiative, has been formed and it says it represents the majority of churches and church groups in Zimbabwe, including the Zimbabwe Council of Churches.

One of the group's leaders, Bishop Trevor Manhango, from the eastern city of Mutare, says many churches have asked him to represent them in a dialogue with the government to see if a solution to Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis can be found.

A long-standing critic of government policies, Manhango says he is simply looking for solutions to Zimbabwe's woes.

But Zimbabwe's most outspoken priest, Archbishop Pius Ncube, head of the Catholic church in second city Bulawayo, said Christians should boycott the prayer day. He says churchmen who had been critical of government policies and are now praying with Mr. Mugabe are hypocrites.

University of Zimbabwe political scientist John Makumbe says Mr. Mugabe had succeeded in driving a wedge between Christian churches.

He said Mr. Mugabe is working hard for Zimbabwe's acceptance into the Western international community so that he can secure foreign loans to help finance the bankrupt economy. He says he and other analysts believe part of this strategy is for the government to appear to have the support of the majority of Zimbabwe's Christian churches.