Australia warned Zimbabwe situation will turn violent

Published: Tuesday, February 4, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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Sydney: The Australian government has been told widespread protests during Australia's World Cup cricket match in Zimbabwe are likely to turn violent, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Sunday. He said Australia's High Commissioner to Zimbabwe, Jonathon Brown, had sent the government a "disturbing report" after a two-day reconnaissance mission in Bulawayo, where Australian cricketers are scheduled to play Zimbabwe on February 24.

Brown had reported to Canberra that the Zimbabwean police would not guarantee a controlled response to the planned protests, Downer told reporters in Adelaide. Downer also called on the International Cricket Council (ICC) to reverse its decision to support matches going ahead as scheduled in Zimbabwe and Kenya. "It is our view that the ICC should move the games from Zimbabwe to more appropriate locations in Africa," he said. Several Australian players have admitted growing concerns about playing in Zimbabwe.

Matthew Hayden, the world's number one ranked batsman, said on the Australian team's departure here on Thursday that he would refuse to shake the hand of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe because of moral issues. Zimbabwean golfer Tony Johnstone said in Melbourne on Sunday that Australia's cricketers risked being targeted by protest groups and would be used as a propaganda tool by the discredited Zimbabwean government.

"I think there are serious concerns about their safety," said Johnstone, who now lives in England. "They can also be used as a tool for any opposition parties for protest." Downer said the High Commissioner believed Zimbabwean opposition parties and other groups planned to protest during the match, which were likely to be met aggressively by police. "His report says, firstly, that the opposition in Bulawayo don't want the cricket game to go ahead," the minister added.

"Secondly, he believes there will be demonstrations mounted by the opposition and others in Bulawayo at the time of the game. "Thirdly, he has been unable to get a commitment from the Zimbabwean police that they won't react to demonstrators in a disproportionately aggressive way, thereby undermining the security situation." The government would pass on Brown's report to the Australian Cricket Board and ICC.

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