- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — President Robert Mugabe threatened yesterday to expel the U.S. ambassador for providing advice to the opposition in the upcoming presidential runoff.

Mr. Mugabe, speaking at the formal launch of his campaign for the June 27 runoff, said Ambassador James D. McGee had publicly urged opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to return to Zimbabwe to lead his embattled supporters. Mr. Tsvangirai returned Saturday after more than six weeks abroad.

“As long as he carries on doing that, I will kick him out of the country,” Mr. Mugabe said of Mr. McGee, a Vietnam War veteran. “I don’t care if he fought in Vietnam. This is Zimbabwe, not an extension of America.”

Mr. Mugabe also ridiculed claims that the opposition leader was the target of a military assassination plot.

Tsvangirai is running around telling people I want to kill him,” Mr. Mugabe said. “I don’t even have a bow and arrow.”

Independent human rights groups, Mr. McGee and other diplomats say opposition supporters have been beaten, tortured and killed by government and ruling-party thugs to ensure that the 84-year-old Mr. Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, wins the runoff. Mr. Mugabe trailed Mr. Tsvangirai in the first round on March 29.

Mr. Tsvangirai left soon after the first vote to warn the world about impending violence. He first tried to return May 17 but canceled the trip after his party said he was the target of a military assassination plot. Mr. Tsvangirai has survived at least three attempts on his life.

Mr. Mugabe yesterday returned to his theme of portraying Mr. Tsvangirai as a stooge of the West, charges the opposition rejects.

“We have an enemy who wants us to go back to be ruled by the whites,” Mr. Mugabe said.

He said former colonial ruler Britain and the United States had celebrated the opposition’s showing in the initial round of voting. In addition to Mr. Tsvangirai“s coming first in a field of four in the presidential race, his Movement for Democratic Change won control of Parliament — the first time that Mr. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) lost Parliament since independence.

“You saw the joy the British had, the Americans had, you saw them celebrating as if Zimbabweans are an extension of Britain and America,” Mr. Mugabe said yesterday.

Along with the formal launch of Mr. Mugabe’s campaign came a new look for his posters. Rather than stern-faced with a raised fist as in March, new posters show him fist raised, but smiling along with the slogan: “100 percent empowerment, total independence.”

Mr. Mugabe is widely blamed for ruining Zimbabwe’s economy, which suffers from inflation of more than 100,000 percent.

Once known as the “breadbasket” of southern Africa and a leading exporter of food, it now needs emergency aid to stave off hunger caused by plunging farm output.