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U.S. imposes sanctions on Mugabe

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday imposed economic sanctions on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and 76 other high-ranking government officials, accusing them of undermining democracy in the impoverished southern African country.

Following the lead of the European Union, Bush issued an executive order freezing their assets and barring Americans from engaging in any transactions or dealings with them. The sanctions take effect immediately.

"Over the course of more than two years, the government of Zimbabwe has systematically undermined that nation's democratic institutions, employing violence, intimidation, and repressive means including legislation to stifle opposition to its rule," Bush said in the order.

Bush said the situation in Zimbabwe "endangers the southern African region" and threatens to undermine democratic reforms throughout the continent.

Mugabe has been under heavy fire from the West over the alleged rigging of an election last year and the persecution of political foes, as well as the seizure of white-owned farms to be given to landless blacks.

The United States, the Commonwealth and the European Union, encouraged by rights groups, have all imposed some travel, aid and economic sanctions on Zimbabwe.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been particularly critical of Mugabe, spearheading opposition to the Zimbabwe government in the European Union under pressure from Britain's large expatriate Zimbabwean community.

"This action is aimed not at the people of Zimbabwe but rather at those most responsible for their current plight," Bush said. "The United States is acutely aware of the hardships and frustrations which the Zimbabwean people are enduring."

In February, the EU renewed targeted sanctions against the former British colony's president and his close associates for one year. The measures include a visa ban, an arms embargo and a freeze on the assets of senior officials of the Harare government.

Last month Mugabe launched a blistering attack on Bush and Blair, branding them imperialists who wanted to impose a new form of colonialism on developing countries.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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