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Zimbabwe rejected neutral venue

Australia's ill-fated cricket series in Zimbabwe was killed off for good today when the African nation rejected an offer to play the three one-day matches at a neutral venue.

Instead Zimbabwe accused Australia of a racist bid to undermine Zimbabwe cricket and topple President Robert Mugabe, who is also the game's national patron.

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland spoke overnight to Zimbabwe Cricket managing director Ozias Bvute, who left him in no doubt of his board's attitude.

"Mr Bvute made it very clear that playing the series at a neutral venue was not a possibility," a CA spokesman said.

"We can now say definitely that the series will not be happening inside or outside Zimbabwe."

Prime Minister John Howard on Sunday banned the national team from going to Zimbabwe because he did not want the world champions to be associated with the regime of "a grubby dictator".

Zimbabwe Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said the Australian government's attitude to the tour and its recent announcement of increased funding for civic groups in Zimbabwe were part of an attempt to ostracise and unseat Mugabe.

"We have a process here for the change of government through democratic elections and not any other way," Ndlovu told reporters in Harare.

"For them to put up that money when we are heading for an election reveals their agenda, but we have a law here against foreign funding for political parties, directly or through NGOs or their embassy."

He dismissed Sutherland's proposal for a neutral venue as "wishful thinking".

"The International Cricket Council says Zimbabwe can host the Australians and any other cricket country here."

Sutherland was obliged to make the offer under its contract with the ICC's Future Tours Program.

Zimbabwe's junior information minister Bright Matonga said the Australian boycott was "a racist ploy to kill our local cricket since our cricket team is now dominated by black players as we slowly transform cricket from being an elite sport".

Australia's next international fixture will be the ICC Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa in September.

By coincidence its first game in that competition is against Zimbabwe. The match is expected to be played as scheduled.

Australia played Zimbabwe as recently as two months ago in a World Cup warm-up game in the Caribbean without incident.

Meanwhile authorities are monitoring the Australian embassy in Harare amid fears the staff and buildings could be targeted in reprisal.

The husband of Zimbabwean activist Sekai Holland warned that violence could easily erupt following the cancellation of the tour.

"Mugabe has threatened diplomats before," Jim Holland told news.com.au.

"Diplomats would be the ones that they'd be most concerned about. I'm very concerned about their safety."

The Australian Cricketers' Association said the cancellation of the series relieved its players of having to make a difficult choice.

Senior players Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist had both expressed reservations about going to Zimbabwe, though Gilchrist said he would have been happy to play the three one-day matches in another country.

Captain Ricky Ponting endorsed the Australian government's boycott.

source - news.com.au
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