, HARARE, Jan 17 – Rowdy supporters of President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday prevented the United States ambassador to Zimbabwe from addressing citizens in the eastern city of Mutare, the US embassy said.
Bruce Wharton was set to deliver remarks in the city, some 265 kilometres (165 miles) east of the capital Harare, when he was blocked by supporters of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, including war veterans.
“The demonstrators prevented him from giving his remarks,” said Sharon Hudson-Dean of the US embassy in Harare.
“He is very disappointed about it because he is very keen to listen to people’s views, even critics of the United States policy.”
Mugabe’s supporters sang songs denouncing the US for imposing sanctions on the veteran leader and his associates.
In a tweet, the US embassy said “President Mugabe encouraged Amb @BruceWharton to travel widely and talk to #Zimbabweans. Sad that he was prevented from doing this today.”
Hudson-Dean said the recently appointed Wharton was on a “listening tour” in Mutare and was set to tour USAID projects and hold meetings with business people, academics, local authorities and citizens.
In a statement, the US embassy said Wharton spent 15 to 20 minutes listening to the demonstrators “but was met with no opportunity for constructive conversation”.
“The US Ambassador recognizes the critical need to work together to build a way forward but believes that this must begin with a respectful sharing of ideas,” it added.
ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo said he “did not know anything” about the demonstration by his party supporters.
Tensions between the US and Zimbabwe stretch back at least a decade since Washington imposed sanctions on Mugabe for election fraud and violence.
Mugabe once accused former US envoy James McGee of meddling in the country’s internal affairs and threatened to expel him after he organised a tour of hospitals with other Western diplomats to see victims of political violence during the deadly 2008 elections.