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Britain Accuses Zimbabwe of Unleashing Tide of Violence - 2002-03-06

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is accusing Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe of unleashing a tide of violence and intimidation ahead of this weekend's presidential election. Prime Minister Blair told parliament that Mr. Mugabe's actions are a sign of his desperation to hold onto power in the two-day election that begins on Saturday.

Mr. Blair accused Mr. Mugabe of intransigence and corruption in thwarting British efforts to support land reform in Zimbabwe, where landless blacks have invaded white-owned farms with government backing.

"If President Mugabe had wanted an orderly and just land reform program at any stage in the last few years, we would have been keen to work with him," the prime minister said. "He did not. Instead, he has used the land reform issue as an excuse for undermining Zimbabwean democracy and more than this, the actions have now provoked a grave economic crisis in a country which has the potential to be rich and successful."

Mr. Blair said Mr. Mugabe is wrong to claim that Britain only cares about white Zimbabweans. "The victims of Mr. Mugabe are not primarily white," he said. "They are the ordinary black citizens fed up with years of decline and corruption."

This was the latest twist in what has become an increasingly personal struggle between the British leader and the Zimbabwean president.

Mr. Mugabe has blasted Mr. Blair as a liar, and he has accused Britain of wishing to restore its power over the colony once known as Rhodesia.

Mr. Blair was reporting to parliament on the just-concluded Commonwealth summit in Australia, where Britain led an unsuccessful effort to have Zimbabwe suspended.

Some African leaders objected to moving against the Mugabe government before the election, where the opposition is mounting a strong challenge.

Mr. Blair says the Commonwealth of former British colonies will lose its credibility if it tolerates a fraudulent election in Zimbabwe.