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Archbishop in Britain Cuts Up Collar in Protest Against Zimbabwe

The Anglican Archbishop of York took a dramatic step to protest human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, removing his bishop's collar and cutting it to pieces on a live television broadcast Sunday. Archbishop John Sentamu said he wanted to send a strong message to protest the presence of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe at the just concluded Europe-Africa summit in Lisbon. Tendai Maphosa reports for VOA from London.

In an interview on British television, Archbishop John Sentamu said there is nothing to be gained from sitting down to talk with the current Zimbabwean leadership - describing such efforts as a "dialogue with the deaf."

He voiced strong support for the British prime minister's boycott of the Lisbon summit because of the presence of Mr. Mugabe and the archbishop said it is time for African leaders to stand up to the Zimbabwean president.

Archbishop Sentamu then took the dramatic step of taking off his bishop's collar and cutting it into pieces.

"This is what I wear to identify myself that I am a clergyman," he said. "Do you know what Mugabe has done? He has taken people's identity and literally, if you do not mind, cut it to pieces. This is what he has actually done, to a lot of - and in the end there is nothing. So as far as I am concerned from now on I am not going to wear a dog collar until Mugabe is gone."

Archbishop Sentamu called on the world to unite against Mr. Mugabe and his regime in the way it did against the late Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith and apartheid South Africa. He called for African leaders, especially the South African leadership, to put pressure on Mr. Mugabe.

The European Union was reluctant to invite Mr. Mugabe to the Lisbon summit, but did so under pressure from African countries who threatened to boycott the meeting if Zimbabwe was not included. Some EU leaders said they hoped Mr. Mugabe would not show up, but insisted a dialogue with Africa must not be hijacked by Zimbabwe.

Archbishop Sentamu also criticized the European Union for inviting Sudanese President Omar al Bashir to the summit, noting that he too has blood on his hands over the human rights crisis in Darfur.

Africa analyst, Tom Cargill of the London-based Chatham House research group says Mr. Mugabe managed to score some points by being at the summit, but he notes the Zimbabwean leader was much more low-key than he usually is at such public events. Cargill believes this may have been in response to pressure from other African leaders to tone down his rhetoric.

But, Cargill says open criticism of Mr. Mugabe by other African leaders is highly unlikely.

"You will you very, very rarely hear one African leader coming out in and openly attack another because there is a strong sense of solidarity between them but in the comments they make about each other you often have to read between the lines," said Cargill. "In the case of Zimbabwe I think there has been some criticism, but leaders have to be careful because there is a strong degree of support for Mugabe's perceived stance against the U.K."

Cargill says that within Africa, Mr. Mugabe has managed to portray Britain's criticism of Zimbabwe's human rights record and lack of democracy as the rumblings of a former colonial occupier. Unfortunately says Cargill, while the public bickering goes on, the situation inside Zimbabwe continues to get worse.