British PM Urges Mugabe to Change Course

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday urged Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe to change course to end poverty and famine, saying he was concerned about the damage being done to the country's people and economy.

"We are very clear about the damage being done to Zimbabwe by the actions of President Mugabe," Brown said at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"We are very worried about the safety of civilians in Zimbabwe and we are very worried about the damage being inflicted on the economy of Zimbabwe by the decisions that are being made.

"We call upon the president to change course, and we call on him to respect the civil liberties of the people of Zimbabwe. We call on him to end what has been a disastrous period of poverty and in many cases famine," said Brown, a former finance minister.

Once viewed as southern Africa's bread basket, Zimbabwe, a former British colony, is suffering a political and economic crisis with soaring inflation, estimated at 4,500 percent, and food and fuel shortages.

The government has embarked on a price freeze programme, backed by police, forcing thousands of businesses to sell bread, milk and other goods at mid-June prices.

Shops are empty of basic foodstuffs and gas stations have run dry after a spate of panic buying. The crisis has renewed fears the Zimbabwean economy will collapse.

Critics point to a range of policies by Mugabe's government which have damaged the economy, including the forcible redistribution of white-owned commercial farms to landless blacks, often ill-equipped to use the land.

Zimbabwe's main opposition party accuses Mugabe of vote rigging to stay in power.

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