Brown brands Mugabe thief and says world must act over 'stolen' poll

ROBERT Mugabe, the Zimbabwe dictator, must not be allowed to steal his country's presidential election and hang on to power illegally, Gordon Brown warned the world last night.

The Prime Minister, in his most outspoken comments on the chaos enveloping the African country, in effect accused Mr Mugabe of being prepared to break the law to stay in office.

The warning came as police and militants loyal to Mr Mugabe cracked down on opponents yesterday , with police arresting 36 people and doctors reporting scores of cases of presumed assault and torture.

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Addressing the United Nations security council in New York, Mr Brown said no-one believed Mr Mugabe had triumphed in the election, which remains undeclared after almost three weeks.

He said: "No-one thinks, having seen the result at the polling stations, that President Mugabe has won this election. A stolen election would not be an election at all. The credibility of the democratic process depends on there being a legitimate government."

Mr Brown made the plight of Zimbabwe the key part of a short address to a security council debate on the African Union.

Earlier this week, Mr Mugabe, who has held power since 1980, dismissed Mr Brown as a "tiny dot in this world".

Police last night accused those arrested yesterday of trying to enforce violently a nationwide strike called by Zimbabwe's opposition to demand the results of presidential elections that Mr Mugabe is widely believed to have lost.

But Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights said it treated 174 cases of injuries consistent with assault and torture since the vote, including 17 yesterday. Most victims this week suffered multiple fractures.

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change believes its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the 29 March election. This is disputed by Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.

In his speech, Mr Brown urged the international community to send a "single, clear message" that it wanted democracy in the southern African nation and was ready to help its people to build a better future.

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He talked of the international community's "shame" for failing to intervene to halt the bloodshed in Rwanda in the early 1990s and said there was still a "gaping hole" in its ability to address illegal uprisings in Africa.

Britain is to train 12,000 African peacekeepers to boost the 28,000 troops available now.

Earlier, at the start of his three-day visit to the US, Mr Brown had upgraded the "special relationship" between Britain and America to a "very special relationship" and predicted it would get stronger whoever succeeded George Bush.

Mr Brown will today meet Republican presidential nominee John McCain, and Democratic rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

He told Good Morning America: "The relationship between Britain and America is strong but it will be stronger. It is a very special relationship."

Chancellor admits Labour must find way to sharpen up its act

ALISTAIR Darling has admitted that the government needs to "sharpen up" its act if it is to regain its popularity.

The Chancellor has become the most senior minister so far to admit that a change in tactics is needed to counter backbench unrest and a Conservative revival in the polls.

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His remarks were seized upon by the Tories as an "unprecedented attack on the Prime Minister" – though Mr Darling made no mention of Gordon Brown in the interview, which he gave yesterday at the end of a three-day trip to China.

Mr Darling said the government would survive the current period of unpopularity "because the economy is fundamentally strong".

He added: "But we have also got to make sure that in other areas we sharpen ourselves up, that we have a clear message of what we are about."

Speaking to the financial news agency Bloomberg in Chongqing, Mr Darling implied that Labour had to return to its roots and remember why it had fought for power in the first place.

He said: "This is a time where we should remember why we stand for government, the purpose of being in government, to build a fairer society and to create opportunity for people. We should never forget that.

"We have an awful lot more to do, and we will get through this patch."

Earlier this week Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, conceded that the government faced "difficult times".

Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister of Wales, and the former home secretary David Blunkett joined the chorus of disapproval over the removal of the 10p income tax band and concern mounted at proposals to extend the amount of time terror suspects can be held without charge from 28 to 42 days.

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George Osborne, the Tory shadow chancellor, said: "What started as anonymous briefings from backbenchers has now burst into the open with a public attack on Gordon Brown from the second most important person in the government. If the government is fighting itself, how can it fight for Britain?"

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman, said: "Many people will be staggered to hear that only now, six months into a financial crisis, the Chancellor is starting to admit there is a problem."