HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe's ruling party has threatened the United States ambassador with expulsion, calling him a "thug" and accusing him of funding organizers of anti-government protests planned for Friday. The U.S. called the remark "deeply offensive."
Zimbabwe's government in recent weeks has increasingly accused the U.S. Embassy of supporting anti-government activists who are piling pressure on President Emmerson Mnangagwa as the economy collapses amid new allegations of corruption and human rights abuses.
The embassy denies the accusations of meddling in local politics in the southern African country.
Ruling ZANU-PF party spokesman Patrick Chinamasa on Monday said U.S. Ambassador Brian Nichols and a "coterie of gangsters" should stop "mobilizing and funding disturbances, coordinating violence and training insurgency. Our leadership will not hesitate to give him marching orders."
He added: "Diplomats should not behave like thugs, and Brian Nichols is a thug."
The embassy did not immediately comment on that. But the top U.S. for Africa, Tibor Nagy, said on Twitter: "Comments from #ZANUPF - while sadly not surprising - are deeply offensive. We have summoned the Ambassador of Zimbabwe to explain."
In the past week, information minister Monica Mutsvangwa and foreign affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo have accused Western countries of sponsoring Hopewell Chin'ono, a prominent journalist known for exposing alleged government corruption, and Jacob Ngarivhume, an opposition politician behind the planned protests.
They have been detained for a week on allegations of organizing the planned protests. The police have said they are looking for several other activists and politicians it accuses of mobilizing the protests.
The U.S. Embassy in recent weeks has repeatedly called on Mnangagwa's government to respect human rights.
Mnangagwa had pledged to repair relations with the U.S. and Western countries when he took over from the late Robert Mugabe in 2017, even offering President Donald Trump some land to build a golf course in the tourist town of Victoria Falls. Mnangagwa himself remains under U.S. sanctions for alleged abuses.
But relations now echo the days of Mugabe, when Western ambassadors were routinely threatened with expulsion.