Zimbabwe's Mugabe hits out at defiant church leaders

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe hit out at some church leaders over the weekend for turning to his opponents instead of seeking dialogue with the government.

At a ceremony to mark the installation of the new Roman Catholic archbishop of Harare, Mugabe chastised the well-known government critic and archbishop of Zimbabwe's second city of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, for failing to interact with the government, state television showed late Saturday.

"What are we expected to do, and how are we expected to judge you when you act behind our backs and go and report outside?" Mugabe said in front of thousands of Catholics who attended the ceremony.

Ncube has accused the government of concealing the true level of food shortages in the southern African country, which aid agencies blame on drought and a controversial land reform programme.

The outspoken cleric has predicted that many Zimbabweans could die.

But Mugabe accused Ncube of "going to those who yesterday denied us rights here," referring to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush.

Mugabe labelled the two Western leaders -- who have criticised his government and imposed targeted sanctions on him and his associates for alleged rights abuses -- as "the liars of the international community".

The Bulwayo city council has reportedly recorded more than 60 deaths from famine in recent months, but the government has dismissed the figures.

Earlier this month a US-funded aid agency said that 2.2 million Zimbabweans would run out of food between now and November, but the government says it has sufficient food stocks to feed the country.

Mugabe said if Zimbabwe's church leaders reported the country's affairs to Blair and Bush then "we band you together with them, damn you together with them, and don't blame us when we do that."