Washington, March 8 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush yesterday 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 EU, 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.
Mugabe has been under 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 US, the Commonwealth and the EU, 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 EU under pressure from Britain’s large expatriate Zimbabwean community.
In a statement, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the situation in Zimbabwe “endangers the southern African region” and threatens to undermine democratic reforms throughout the continent.
The White House stressed that the sanctions were not aimed at the people of Zimbabwe, and that it was “working diligently” with its international partners to ensure that adequate food supplies are made available to Zimbabweans in need.
The UN World Food Programme has said that while massive food aid helped to stave off the threat of widespread starvation in the region, more than 7 million people face severe shortages in Zimbabwe.
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.
Baton-wielding Zimbabwe riot police beat dozens of women today to break up an International Women’s Day gathering and briefly detained at least 15 organisers for questioning.