MDC denies 'overthrow' plot

Opposition spokesperson Nelson Chamisa dismissed the allegations made in state media as "ridiculous," and said they could be used as a pretext to crack down harder on dissent.

"When a leopard starts devouring its young ones, it starts by accusing that young one of smelling like a goat," Chamisa told The Associated Press.

Human rights groups have charged in recent weeks that Mugabe’s regime has renewed assaults on his opponents, even as he faced more international and internal pressure.

Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai have yet to implement a unity government deal struck in September, because of a dispute over how to share Cabinet posts.

Chamisa, Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, said that the opposition still hoped the deadlock could be resolved, though he said no negotiations had been scheduled.

But Patrick Chinamasa, Mugabe’s justice minister, was quoted in the state-owned Herald newspaper as saying the opposition was not sincere and "is bent on foisting war on the country and the region."

Chinamasa said he had "compelling evidence" members of Movement for Democratic Change were being trained in neighbouring Botswana to fight, allegations Tsvangirai and Botswana have dismissed in the past. Botswana President Seretse Ian Khama has been one of the few African leaders to openly criticise Mugabe.

"My plea to Khama and his government is to think carefully about the irreversible harm they have been plotting to unleash on the region," Chinamasa said.

Botswana did not immediately comment, but when Zimbabwe made similar accusations last month, Botswana issued a statement dismissing them as a "desperate attempt" to divert attention from Zimbabwe’s crises.

In addition to Zimbabwe’s economic collapse, the country also faces a growing hunger problem and cholera has spread rapidly.

According to UN figures, deaths from cholera in Zimbabwe since August are approaching 800, with more than 16 000 people sickened by the waterborne disease. Zimbabwe has been unable to afford spare parts and chemicals for systems to provide clean water, and its hospitals no longer have the staff or medicine to treat the sick.

Zimbabwe’s decline began in 2000, when Mugabe began an often violent campaign to seize white-owned farms and give them to blacks; most of the land ended up in the hands of his cronies, and production has dropped. The UN estimates half the population will need food aid by early next year.

Mugabe has ruled his country since its 1980 independence from Britain. He refused to leave office following disputed elections in March. Power sharing has been agreed to as a solution to the election dispute, with Tsvangirai as prime minister and Mugabe continuing as president. – Sapa-AP