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Mugabe blames West for Zimbabwe's food shortages

CARE provides assistance to 500,000 of Zimbabwe's most vulnerable people, including orphans, the sick and the elderly. This month, it would have fed more than 110,000 people in schools, orphanages, old age homes and through other programs.

Speaking at a U.N. food conference in Rome, President Robert Mugabe attacked the activities of nongovernmental organizations and accused the West of conspiring “to cripple Zimbabwe's economy” and bring about “illegal regime change.”

“Funds are being channeled through nongovernmental organizations to opposition political parties, which are a creation of the West,” Mugabe said. “These Western-funded NGOs also use food as a political weapon with which to campaign against government, especially in the rural areas.”

Government officials have accused CARE staff of distributing election pamphlets and encouraging people to vote for the opposition and against ZANU-PF – the governing party that has been in power since 1980 – in advance of a presidential runoff this month. CARE vehemently denies the charges and said the government has not yet offered any specific evidence to back up the allegations.

CARE was informed of the suspension on May 28, and it will remain in place until the government's investigation of the charges is completed. CARE has told its staff of 300 in Zimbabwe to remain at home pending further notice. Since it began working in Zimbabwe in 1992, CARE has channeled more than $100 million in development assistance and disaster relief to the country.

“CARE has strict policies against political involvement and categorically denies that the organization has encouraged or tolerated any political activity,” said Kenneth Walker, Africa communications manager for CARE International. “CARE requested, but has not yet received details of any allegations, including names, dates and locations.”

Since a disputed March 29 presidential election, in which Mugabe came in second to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the government has been cracking down widely on many civic and nonprofit groups, as well as the opposition. Civic leaders and aid workers say the restrictions on humanitarian assistance have been increasing in recent days.