May 11, 2007 / 4:30 AM / 13 years ago

Australia's Howard says Mugabe regime like Nazis

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister John Howard called on Friday for international cricket authorities to take a stand against Zimbabwe as he compared the tactics of President Robert Mugabe to those of the World War Two Nazis.

The Australian government is considering legal action to prevent the country’s world champion cricket team from touring Zimbabwe in September, infuriated by Mugabe’s brutal crackdown on political opponents.

“The stories of torture and brutality, the names of 600 members of the opposition party being taken from a computer by the secret police and every one of those homes visited, the people tortured and bashed up. That’s the sort of thing the Gestapo did,” Howard told Australian radio.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said a minimum $2 million (1 million pound) fine the team was liable to pay for scrapping its tour contract may not apply if the government intervened to bar the visit.

“We’re looking at whether there would be any legal basis for the government, if you like, banning the tour,” Downer told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. “Obviously the onus would fall on the government, but there would be no fine paid at all.”

The government has offered to cover any resulting fine, but is concerned the money may end up in the hands of Mugabe or senior members of his government and security forces.

Downer on Thursday met officials from Cricket Australia (CA) and the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA) in Melbourne, but they failed to reach an immediate agreement.

Howard said the international cricket community and the sport’s governing body, the International Cricket Council, had a humanitarian responsibility to help pressure Mugabe for reform.

“I am jammed between my distaste for the government getting involved in something like this and my even greater distaste for giving a propaganda victory to Robert Mugabe,” Howard said.

Zimbabwean cricket has been in crisis for the past few years. The country is still recognised by the International Cricket Council, though the sport’s ruling body has currently withdrawn its test status.

Countries that refuse to tour the African state can be sanctioned but Australian leg-spinner Stuart MacGill lodged a personal protest in 2004.

Shortly after his announcement, Australia’s tour was cancelled and no fines were imposed. Later that year, England’s planned tour of the country was also postponed after the ICC took away Zimbabwe’s test status.

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