England cricket officials in Zimbabwe

Published: Wednesday, October 20, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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Bulawayo :The ECB's probe into safety and security ahead of England's two-week tour of Zimbabwe enters phase two when the group travels to the capital Harare.

So far investigatons have been centred for two days in the country's second city, the most likely location for demonstrations.

It was here that church leaders demonstrated against President Robert Mugabe inside the Queens Sports Club grounds during last year's World Cup and dozens of arrests were made outside after whites and blacks waved anti-Mugabe placards.

ECB director John Carr, players' chief Richard Bevan, and English security experts have held a sequence of meetings with provincial officials, ground staff, hotel management where the England group will be staying, local government officials, opposition party leaders and police chiefs.

They will now move to the capital on Wednesday to hold talks with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, police, and government ministers.

"We have also been talking to private individuals, which is important," Bevan told AFP.

"We are now flying to Harare for the second leg of our visit. I am not prepared at this stage to tell you anything about these meetings and discussions except that they were most useful to us."

England pulled out of their Harare fixture on moral grounds prior to their World Cup match against Zimbabwe in February, 2003, and in doing so almost forfeited points, which prevented them reaching the "Super Six" second stage.

That match was the second of three due to be played in Harare. At the start of the first, against Namibia, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga held a black armband protest against the government and issued a statement deploring the "death of democracy" in Zimbabwe.

Pre-publicity ahead of the England tour here, which begins with their arrival on November 25, has been minimal so far.

England will play two one-day internationals in Harare and then three in Bulawayo before moving to South Africa for a series of five Test matches.

Zimbabwe's Test status has been shelved for the last three months after Australia, England and Pakistan refused to play the full five-day game against a new and raw Zimbabwe side that replaced the one led by Heath Streak and 14 other white players who had gone on strike in his support and were sacked.

The Zimbabweans will play two Tests in Bangladesh during January next year, after which their progress will be assessed.

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