Mugabe food summit visit 'obscene'
Australia questions president's presence at UN meeting in Italy.
Last Modified: 02 Jun 2008 14:52 GMT
 Arthur Mutambara was arrested after writing
an article critcising Mugabe's rule [AFP]
Robert Mugabe's attendance at a UN summit on food security in Rome has been criticised by Australia's foreign minister as "obscene".

Steven Smith's comments on Monday came as scores of people were arrested as the political crisis in Zimbabwe continues ahead of next month's run-off vote for the presidency.
Police arrested at least 70 people following alleged attacks on war veterans and ruling party activists in a village in the southwestern Buhera district, state-run media reported.

Arthur Mutambara, the leader of an opposition group, was also detained after writing an article criticising Mugabe.
Harrison Nkomo, his lawyer, said: "He was arrested for publishing falsehoods and for contempt of court for an opinion article he wrote in April."

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The article accused Mugabe of destroying the Zimbabwean economy and his security forces of abuses.

Trudy Stevenson, one of his senior allies and a former MP, confirmed that Mutambara, was picked up at his home by police and taken to a police station.

The editor of The Standard newspaper was arrested last month over the piece written by Mutambara.

Mutambara, who leads a breakaway Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) faction, recently pledged to support Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main MDC group, in the run-off poll against Mugabe.

Food summit

The Zimbabwean president arrived in Rome on Sunday for a summit of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.

However, Steven Smith said on Monday that it was not right for Mugabe to be at the summit.

"... Robert Mugabe turning up to a conference dealing with food security or food issues is, in my view, frankly obscene"

Steven Smith, Australia's foreign minister
"This is the person who has presided over the starvation of his people ... [He] has used food aid in a politically motivated way," he said.

"So Robert Mugabe turning up to a conference dealing with food security or food issues is, in my view, frankly obscene."

Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, also condemned Mugabe's presence.
"We think it's particularly unfortunate that he has decided to attend this meeting given what he has done in relation to contributing to difficulties on food supply in Zimbabwe," a spokesman said.
The 84-year-old is usually subject to a travel ban to the European Union because of sanctions imposed after he allegedly rigged his re-election in 2002, but is able to attend UN forums.

Zimbabwe was once considered a self-sufficient country, able to feed its own people. But the country is now facing acute food shortages after a land reform programme and the collapse of the farming sector.
Thousands of white-owned farms were seized and handed over to black Zimbabweans.

Mugabe's critics say that that many of the best farms ended up in the hands of his close supporters.

Election violence

After elections on March 29, Mugabe's Zanu-PF lost its majority in parliament for the first time in 28 years and Tsvangirai won the presidential election, but without the overall majority required for a first round win.

The results caused a wave of violence across the country, particularly in rural areas. 

Last week, six veterans of the liberation war against white rule in the 1970s and officials from Zanu-PF were injured following attacks by unidentified people, according to The Herald newspaper.
Levy Sibanda, the deputy police commissioner-general, said: "So far, more than 70 suspects have been arrested in connection with the cases and are still in police custody.
"We are here to assess the situation and to find ways on how best peace can prevail in this area. We are solving the problem to ensure that people live in peace."

The MDC claims that at least 50 of its supporters have been killed, hundreds injured and at least 25,000 displaced in attacks following the polls.
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