Mugabe slams churches as 'agents of violence'

Harare, Zimbabwe - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe called select local Christian groups "agents of violence" on Thursday, promising that the law would catch up with them as a damaging rift among churches in Zimbabwe deepened.

Three days ahead of a planned national day of prayer, which critics say has been hijacked by the ruling party, Mugabe accused some churches and civic groups of spreading falsehoods about the situation in Zimbabwe.

"The agents of violence and the purveyors of falsehoods about the country, who regrettably have included a few churches and civil groups should be warned that the long arm of the law will not allow them to disrupt business and disturb the rights of individuals who seek an honest living in our society," Mugabe said at a graduation ceremony for new police recruits in the capital Harare.

Sunday's national day of prayer has been mired in controversy ever since it emerged that Mugabe was likely to attend. Some church leaders have called for a boycott of the event, which is being advertised on state television.

"The local forces of negation, who claim to be champions of democracy while in fact they are willing conduits of violence, and the vilification propagated by the West should not be allowed to ride roughshod over our people," Mugabe said in televised comments.

The Zimbabwean leader held talks with a delegation of church leaders last month in what was touted as a bid to find solutions to the political and economic crisis in this once-prosperous southern African nation.

But the churchmen were later slammed in the independent local press for apparently failing to criticise government policies.

The clerics were due to meet opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, of the Movement for Democratic Change, for talks on Wednesday but the meeting was postponed due to the death of the leader's father in Buhera, southern Zimbabwe