Zimbabwe tourist lodge invasions condemned

Invaders in bird sanctuary Most of the invaders have now left

Ministers have condemned the invasion of several tourist lodges in Zimbabwe by people saying they are implementing government policy.

One of those targeted was a bird sanctuary near Harare.

The invasions coincided with a bid by Zimbabwe's tourism minister to attract more holiday-makers to the country.

Meanwhile, President Robert Mugabe has returned to the country and dismissed as "naked lies" reports he was gravely ill at a hospital in Malaysia.

Men wearing T-shirts from Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and carrying political banners burst into the Kuimba Shiri Safari Lodge near Lake Chivero on Friday and occupied the facility for the weekend.

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"We had about 200 people come in singing racial songs - 'Down With The British, Down With The Whites' - that sort of thing," the lodge's owner, Gary Stafford, told the BBC.

He said they were accompanied by members of the police but there had been no violence or looting and most of the leaders later left the property.

The invaders said their aim was to audit the property in preparation for a takeover - as part of Zimbabwe's indiginisation laws which gives the state a majority shareholding in foreign companies.

Mr Stafford said he thought the group were "rogue elements" driven by hunger but said they should face justice to send a message to others.

'Western lies'

Minister of State Jameson Timba condemned the invasions and told the AFP news agency that riot police had now evicted all of the invaders.

Mr Timba is from the Movement for Democratic Change, which is sharing power with Zanu-PF.

One of Mr Mugabe's close allies and Zanu-PF minister Ignatius Chombo also condemned the invasions, AFP reports.

In 2000, supporters of Mr Mugabe invaded hundreds of white-owned farms in support of Zanu-PF's policy of redistributing land to poor black families.

The farm seizures are widely seen as a major reason for the collapse of Zimbabwe's once thriving economy.

On his return to Harare late on Sunday, Mr Mugabe, 86, denied reports he had been gravely ill in Malaysia, saying he had been on holiday in Singapore.

He blamed the reports, carried by several outlets as "naked lies crafted by the Western-manipulated media".

He has governed Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.

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