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Australian Government Urges National Cricket Team to Cancel Zimbabwe Tour

The Australian government is considering legal action to stop the country's national cricket team from playing in Zimbabwe later this year. Officials are determined to stop the cricket world champions from appearing to give support to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

The Australian government says that if its cricketers traveled to Zimbabwe, it would hand a propaganda victory to President Robert Mugabe.

The Australian national team won the cricket World Cup in the Caribbean last month, giving it an especially high profile. Canberra wants no hint that Australia supports the Mugabe regime, which has been accused of sweeping human rights violations and of leading the country into despair and chaos.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has even offered to pay a $2 million fine that might be imposed by cricket's world governing body if the trip were abandoned.

Downer has held emergency talks with Australian cricket officials. The government is also looking into taking legal action to prevent the team from playing in Zimbabwe if no agreement can be reached.

Downer has told parliament that the proposed tour must be canceled.

"The fact is, the Australian cricket team is caught in a political situation of no making of its own. And that is that if it were to go to Zimbabwe, it would create great political controversy," he said. "Back here in Australia, there's no doubt that in Zimbabwe, President Mugabe and his regime would make propaganda capital out of such a visit."

Canberra has been one of the sternest critics of the Mugabe regime, and Australia's cricketers have canceled previous tours to Zimbabwe.

In 2005, the government of neighboring New Zealand refused to issue visas to the Zimbabwe team as a protest against the Mugabe government.

But Australian cricket executives say they are dealing with "a very difficult and complex issue."

They say that while they are aware of their government's concerns, they do have to fulfill international obligations.

Australia's tour of the southern African nation would include three one-day matches, and is scheduled to start in September.