- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

HARARE, Zimbabwe

(Agence France-Presse) — Zimbabwean authorities have revoked operating licenses for nongovernmental organizations in a crackdown on groups that officials say are planning to oust longtime President Robert Mugabe, state television said yesterday.

“The government has annulled registration certificates of all NGOs in order to sift out those seeking to force regime change in Zimbabwe,” the state broadcaster Zimbabwe Television said.

“As pro-opposition and Western organizations masquerading as relief agencies continue to mushroom, the government has annulled the registration certificates of all NGOs in order to screen out agents of imperialism from genuine organizations working to uplift the well-being of the poor,” according to the announcement.

Private aid and civil groups have increasingly been the target of governments around the world. Russia, Uzbekistan, Burma and other countries in recent years have issued new registration laws, restricted activities and even shut down domestic and foreign-based NGOs considered hostile to the regime.

The Zimbabwean television report said Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu made the announcement at a meeting of ruling-party supporters in the second-largest city of Bulawayo.

“The opposition has of late been aligning itself with anti-government religious groups under the umbrella of the ‘Save Zimbabwe Campaign,’ ” the report said.

“Rallies held under this banner have seen supposed prayer meetings turning into violent illegal gatherings.”

Zimbabwean authorities have in the past accused Western powers of using NGOs and aid agencies to channel funds to the country’s main opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The country’s relations with the West became strained after the United States and the European Union imposed targeted sanctions on Mr. Mugabe and other senior officials from his ruling party after the outcome of the presidential election in 2002 was disputed by the MDC and Western observers.

Critics say Mr. Mugabe’s economic mismanagement and anti-democratic moves have isolated Zimbabwe and devastated what was once one of Africa’s most productive economies.

Mr. Mugabe often castigates MDC leaders as stooges of the West and accuses British Prime Minister Tony Blair of harboring plans to reclaim the former British colony, using the MDC as a front group.

To keep an eye on the operations of NGOs, the authorities drafted a bill allowing the state to demand records on finances and operations of suspect private groups.

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