- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2013

The U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe intended to deliver a few remarks at a local library, but he was left speechless by a nearly naked lady.

Ambassador David Bruce Wharton traveled to Mutare, the fourth-largest city in the southern African nation, to tour U.S.-funded projects and talk with Zimbabweans at a local library last week.

A gang of vocal and aggressive protesters surrounded him at the Turner Memorial Library, however, and one woman started taking off her clothes.

“There was a lot of shouting, chanting, jumping, pounding on tables, many angry voices, and at least one person began to disrobe,” Mr. Wharton wrote in his account of the confrontation.

One demonstrator tore the head off a life-sized photograph of President Obama, while others trampled the American flag, the ambassador said.

The woman who stripped to her bra and panties claimed she was protesting U.S. sanctions against leaders of the ruling political party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front. The U.S. Embassy says the sanctions target fewer than 120 individuals suspected of human rights abuses. The United States also applies sanctions against some Zimbabwean companies and organizations.

Sheila Mutsenhu, a strong supporter of the ruling party, told local reporters that she took off her clothes to “send a very clear message to the U.S. and its allies that sanctions are hurting ordinary citizens.”

“There is no going back in my antics, and what you witnessed is just small. Bigger things are coming because enough is enough,” she said.

The U.S. Embassy noted that sanctions have not hurt bilateral trade with Zimbabwe. In 2009 and 2010, the United States increased exports to Zimbabwe by 30 percent over the period from 2000 to 2008.

Washington also has given $1.4 billion in assistance to Zimbabwe since 2001, the embassy said.

Zimbabwe’s authoritarian president, Robert Mugabe, has imposed ruinous economy policies on the country that once brought inflation to astronomical rates.

Mr. Wharton defended the right of peaceful protest but noted that the demonstrators in Mutare were more interested in a confrontation than a conversation.

“I will defend everyone’s right to peaceful protest but am also committed to the idea that respectful dialogue is needed for progress,” he wrote on harare.usembassy.gov. “This group of young people did not share that latter value.”

The protesters followed the ambassador and his aides as they left the library and headed for their car. Mr. Wharton said they tried to prevent him from entering the car and then jumped on its roof and hood.

“With extreme caution to avoid running over anyone, the driver skillfully drove out of the crowd,” the ambassador wrote.

Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Monday

Tibor Navracsics, deputy prime minister of Hungary, who meets administration officials and members of Congress. On Wednesday, he addresses the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Thursday

Slavomir Horak and Jan Sir, professors of international studies at Charles University in the Czech Republic. They discuss developments in Turkmenistan at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Akihiko Koenuma, director-general of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, who participates in a Brookings Institution briefing on the Arab Spring.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.