South African churches called to support Zimbabwean people

 South African religious leaders, including Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, urged churches to mobilise public opinion against repression in Zimbabwe on Wednesday. In a statement issued by the South African Council of Churches, they said: "The deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe is not likely to be resolved by the March 31 election, regardless of its outcome. Warning of a "prolonged crisis", the statement said churches must "mobilise public opinion, especially against human rights abuses inflicted on Zimbabwe's people". The document was issued shortly before a delegation led by Russel Botman, president of the church council, met to discuss the crisis in Zimbabwe with Archbishop Tutu and to offer him support over his recent clashes with the South African government. Tutu fell out publicly with President Thabo Mbeki last year after saying the government must speed up efforts to alleviate poverty and allow more open criticism within the ruling African National Congress. Last month the retired archbishop criticised government policies to integrate more black and mixed-race players in formerly white-dominated sports, prompting one senior ANC lawmaker to call his remarks "treasonous". But as he stood outside his modest office in Cape Town, the anti-apartheid veteran was in a conciliatory mood and said he planned to meet Mbeki soon. "One of the most important things is that we have to ensure that there is space for everyone to express their point of view," Tutu said. "I think we are experiencing the growing pains of democracy ... with the flexing of muscles." Tutu said he was in agreement with the Council of Churches' statement on Zimbabwe. "I think it's a good statement," he said. Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe's government last month described Tutu as "an instrument of white racists" after he said that Zimbabwe made a mockery of African democracy. The church leaders gave their backing to South Africa's trade union movement Cosatu which on Wednesday staged token protests outside Zimbabwe's embassy in Pretoria. *In London at noon today, a petition urging international action to ensure free and fair elections in Zimbabwe will be presented to the High Commissioner of Mauritius in London - the current chair of the Southern African Development Community. The petition was signed by more than 10,000 people at the Zimbabwe Vigil, which is held outside the Zimbabwe Embassy every Saturday in support of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo lead prayers at the vigil during his visit to London last summer. The Zimbabwe Vigil says it is already clear that Zimbabwe has flouted the election guidelines. It is urging , which is to send an observer mission to Zimbabwe, to do everything it can, even at this late stage, to try to make the elections on 31st March as free and fair as possible. Western powers, including the United Kingdom, have not been invited to observe the elections. On Wednesday, a copy of the petition was handed to Baroness Park, who led a debate on Zimbabwe in the House of Lords. Lady Park and all the other 10 speakers condemned the repression of the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, which was described as a "failed state". Source: ZWNews/Zimbabwe Vigil

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