16 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Anti-Sanctions Protesters Disrupt U.S. Ambassador's Manicaland Tour

US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Bruce Wharton, who was touring projects funded by the US government in Manicaland province, was greeted on Tuesday and Wednesday by demonstrators who are against the restrictive measures imposed by the US.

Wharton told SW Radio Africa that on Tuesday he had gone to visit the Sangano Dairy Farm, a USAID funded project in Rusape, but had to abandon his tour prematurely because of the disturbances by the placard carrying protesters who sang liberation war and anti-sanctions songs.

Western countries, including the European Union, imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on members of the ZANU PF government and some companies more than a decade ago.

Ambassador Wharton said the US has made it very clear that it wants to see the rule of law and democratic processes respected, before the restrictions can be removed.

He said: "Sanctions do not affect the larger population of Zimbabwe. It is my goal to see our relationship normalize but it will require work from both sides."

"Secretary Clinton spoke in Cape Town last year and said that we will go action for action with Zimbabwe." Wharton added: "When and if we see a draft constitution and a successful referendum then we will talk about how the United States will respond."

Suspended MDC-T Mutare Mayor Brian James said Ambassador Wharton was hounded again by a group of "rowdy protestors" in Mutare on Wednesday, resulting in him abandoning a public meeting at the Turner Memorial Library where the US embassy has set up an American corner with an internet café for the general public.

"It was very unfortunate because there was quite a reasonable crowd that had gathered to listen to the Ambassador and to engage in some useful dialogue."

James said the group was "very disruptive" and verbally abused the people who had gathered for the meeting, damaging some furniture in the library.

"The ambassador moved aside hoping that things would subside but they basically hounded him back into his vehicle." The Mayor added: "The sad thing about it is that an opportunity to dialogue with the ambassador was lost."

James said it would appear that the protests were nationally organized to disrupt Wharton from meeting the people, using the sanctions issue as an excuse.

A statement issued by the US embassy said: "While the U.S. values the right to peaceful protest, and notes it as a critical element of democracy, we regret that the roughly 130 ZANU-PF protestors were not interested in a conversation.

"Ambassador Wharton spent about 15-20 minutes listening to their messages - written on placards, and verbal - but was met with no opportunity for constructive conversation."

This was supposed to be Ambassador Wharton's first official visit to parts of Manicaland province since he presented his credentials to President Robert Mugabe late last year.

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