A prominent Zimbabwean cleric has urged Britain to call off a controversial cricket tour and take a harder line against Robert Mugabe, calling on churches in the UK to also take a tougher line.
He urged Britain to stand up to the Zimbabwean president who he accused of carrying out a "starvation plan" reports the Independent newspaper.
The Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, said it was time to take action against Mr Mugabe, accused of using food as a weapon to starve opposition supporters into submission before elections next year.
The Archbishop - whose activities are monitored by state intelligence in Zimbabwe - urged church leaders outside the country to also speak out against the regime, saying that through their silence "these churches are betraying Jesus Christ".
He called on the English Cricket Board to cancel a scheduled series of one-day matches in November, saying: "Everything is politicised in Zimbabwe.
"So every opportunity should be used to drive the point home to Mugabe that the world is displeased with him for holding all of the people of Zimbabwe to ransom."
The Archbishop was due to meet Michael Soper, the deputy chairman of the ECB, which is grappling with how to pull out of the scheduled one-day series in Zimbabwe without risking sanctions from the International Cricket Council. The decision to play the matches has been seen as a political victory for Mr Mugabe.
According to Archbishop Ncube, who is in London to seek backing for a fund to support human rights abuse victims in Zimbabwe, half a million people would have died of hunger without help from the World Food Programme.
He accused Mr Mugabe of wrongly announcing a bumper harvest, while importing 300,000 tons of food from South Africa to use as a political tool.
The Archbishop said Tony Blair should take a tougher line in defending the Zimbabwean people, and should brush aside Mr Mugabe's accusations of British neo-colonialism and sympathy for the country's white farmers.
Britain changed tack on Zimbabwe after open criticism proved counter-productive, merely drawing retaliatory diatribes from Mr Mugabe (who, according to the Archbishop, has a "secret admiration" for Britain). Instead the Government has been active behind the scenes through key African countries.
Britain has of late pinned its hopes on Thabo Mbeki, the South African President, in its search for a political solution for Zimbabwe. But Archbishop Ncube said: "Mbeki has been a disappointment. He has been backing Mugabe, saying things will be all right ... But possibly he is aware that if he takes a negative attitude he will have less space to assist Mugabe. There is still that hope that Mugabe becomes reasonable."
He called for Britain to keep up pressure on Zimbabwe through international forums, and to channel aid to rights groups and other non-government organisations. He warned that given the cruelty of the Mugabe regime, there was a danger of violence as political tensions mount before the parliamentary elections next year. "We are afraid that there is so much fear, and a lot of anger. It will be a tragedy if all of a sudden people went violent because Mugabe's last card is to call the army 'come over here, shoot them'."
According to a report published by the Solidarity Peace Trust, which analysed the arrests of 1,200 Zimbabwean civilians between February 2003 and January 2004, citizens are being systematically detained for activities considered a normal part of democracy elsewhere.