UK backs Zimbabwe sanctions
LONDON, England -- Britain has indicated it will press for Zimbabwe's suspension from the 54-nation Commonwealth.
The announcement came during a debate in the House of Commons over what were described as Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's "flagrant attacks on democratic principles."
The debate was held on Wednesday as Zimbabwe's government was poised to pass a controversial bill which limits the media and stifles freedom of speech.
During the UK parliament debate, one politician likened Britain's treatment of Mugabe to the appeasement of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s and described his government as a "fascist regime."
In response, Junior Foreign Office minister Ben Bradshaw said: "The government's long-held view that we act best when we act together with our international friends is the best strategy.
"Britain shares the view of Australia and others that countries that violate the values of the Commonwealth should not have a seat at that table."
The eight-strong Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), the group's democracy watchdog, will discuss calls for Zimbabwe's suspension at a meeting in London next Wednesday.
Heads of government from the Commonwealth are due to meet in Brisbane in early March, just days before Zimbabwe's elections.
The media bill being considered on Wednesday after twice being postponed is seen as an attempt by Mugabe to silence opposition in his bid for re-election in March.
Part of it allows for restricting access to Zimbabwe to foreign correspondents and the state licensing of domestic journalists.
It is expected to be passed by parliament -- where Mugabe's ZANU-PF party holds a majority in the 150-seat house -- although in an amended form following national complaints and international condemnation.
Zimbabwe already faces possible European Union sanctions after failing to address EU concerns over political violence and alleged human rights violations.
The United States is also stepping up pressure on Mugabe, taking steps to locate millions of dollars thought to have been deposited abroad by his inner circle -- in preparation for possible freezing of their overseas assets.
Mugabe is accused by the international community of sanctioning the often violent takeover of hundreds of white-owned farms, triggering a collapse in agricultural output.
He has vowed to seize two thirds of the 12 million hectares of land owned by 4,500 mostly white commercial farmers.
In the UK House of Commons, Conservative MP Dr Julian Lewis compared the UK Government's treatment of what he called the leader of a "racist and fascistic regime" with Britain's appeasement of Hitler during the 1930s.
Lewis accused Mugabe of "parodying democracy."
He said: "There are prisoners being interrogated in ways that would have Labour backbenchers and Liberal Democrat frontbenchers frothing at the mouth if they were applied to al Qaeda suspects in Cuba."
He added: "Why is it that people who rightly so strongly criticised white repression in the past ... respond so feebly to black repression now? This is a viciously racist and fascistic regime and where are the mass demonstrations against it?
"I fear there has been too much of a softly, softly approach consistently applied by the Foreign Office."
Speaking of the 1933 call by Britain's envoy in Germany "that Hitler should not be appeased," he added: "Our recommendation now is that Mugabe should not be appeased either."
Bradshaw said there had been a catalogue of reported abuses in Zimbabwe including "appalling atrocities" against opposition supporters, attempts to prevent campaigning by political opponents, and a clampdown on media reporting.
"The British government unreservedly condemns these flagrant attacks on democratic principles and practice," he said.
"These violations show that Zimbabwe's ruling party knows that it cannot win a free and fair election. Instead it is choosing to rig the process and bludgeon its way through."
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Movement for Democratic Change
UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office
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