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Zimbabwe rules out neutral venue

15/05/2007 04:56:50 AM Comments (0)

Zimbabwe has rejected an offer for its cricket team to play Australia at a neutral venue and accused the Australian government of renewed efforts to topple President Robert Mugabe.

Australia barred its national team from travelling to Zimbabwe for a scheduled three-match tour in September to protest against Mugabe's rule, prompting Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland to suggest the world champions could play Zimbabwe at a neutral venue.

"That is wishful thinking ... the International Cricket Council says Zimbabwe can host the Australians and any other cricket country here," Zimbabwe Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told reporters in Harare.

He said the move to cancel the tour and the Australian government's announcement that it was increasing funding for civic groups in the southern African country were part of efforts to ostracise and unseat Mugabe.

An Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade statement said Australia would significantly boost its support for human rights campaigners and community organisations in Zimbabwe over the next two years, starting with the immediate release of nearly $A6 million.

The Australian government has planned to channel $A18 million by next year to Zimbabwean civic groups and aid agencies through the Australian Fund for Zimbabwe.

"The Australian foreign minister has announced an $A18 million fund for regime change. We have a process here for the change of government through democratic elections and not any other way," Ndlovu said.

"For them to put up that money when we are heading for an election reveals their agenda, but we have a law here against foreign funding for political parties, directly or through NGOs or their embassy."

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