Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube, of Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, said he was willing to put on his vestments and lead a march to Mugabe's residence, but added: "If I do it, I do it alone."

"The people are so scared. You are not going to get that (protest marches) where people are so cowardly," he said on Sunday.

Mugabe, a former guerrilla leader, has led Zimbabwe since the end of white rule in 1980.

Ncube thinks Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party will easily win Thursday's parliamentary elections, which he said will be overseen by the military and are certain to be rigged.

"I hope that people get so disillusioned that they really organise against the government and kick him out by a non-violent, popular, mass uprising," Ncube said in an interview with the South African newspaper The Sunday Independent.

"Because as it is, people have been too soft with this government. So people should pluck up just a bit of courage and stand up against him and chase him away."

Outpost of tyranny

Calls for unauthorised protests are punishable by up to 20 years in jail under the country's Public Order and Security Act.

"I hope that people get so disillusioned that they really organise against the government and kick him out by a non-violent, popular, mass uprising. Because as it is, people have been too soft with this government"

Archbishop Pius Ncube

While this year's election has been less violent than previous ones, Ncube said "a kind of tacit violence" persists.

He accused the government of denying desperately needed food aid to opposition supporters in rural centres such as Filabusi, about 400km south of Harare, where he said more than 200 hungry families had been turned away.

Ncube was also critical of opposition leaders, who have been at pains to avoid bloodshed since 200 people were killed during the government's often violent seizure of thousands of white-owned farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans.

"We do not have a leader to lead us. We need someone who is courageous," Ncube said. "People must be ready even to risk losing their lives; everyone wants to keep safe."

The tumultuous land reform programme, combined with years of drought and a government crackdown on dissent, has plunged the nation of nearly 13 million people into international isolation and economic crisis.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called Zimbabwe an "outpost of tyranny".

Capitalism and colonialism

However, opposition leaders remain hopeful that change can be brought through the ballot box, encouraged by large turnouts at their rallies in recent days. 

Opponents accuse Mugabe of
corruption and mismanagement

"What is needed by Zimbabwe is a new vision, a new Zimbabwe that is able to respond to the crisis that we find ourselves in," said Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

"Go and vote for food, go and vote for jobs, go and vote for MDC - and go and vote for your future," he told 20,000 supporters at a rally in an impoverished Harare neighbourhood on Sunday.

Earlier, Ncube delivered an Easter Sunday Mass at Bulawayo's packed St Mary's Cathedral. He urged worshippers to remain hopeful and to persevere.

"Somewhere there shall come a resurrection for Zimbabwe," he said.

Mugabe rejects the opposition's allegations, accusing them of being in the pocket of "foreign interests".

He says that 25 years after independence, his party is still fighting the twin evils of capitalism and colonialism.