Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Besieged by a powerful opposition in parliament; denounced by former friends and allies; rejected by the international community; and faced with a disillusioned population, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has turned his anger on his traditional target - the country's white minority.
On Wednesday he vowed that his government would renege on national reconciliation policies and other amnesties to ensure that whites, especially those supporting the opposition movement, were punished for unspecified crimes.
"The national reconciliation policy is being gravely threatened by acts of the white settlers," he was quoted as telling supporters of his ruling ZANU-PF party. "We shall revoke that national reconciliation policy.
"The whites, including Ian Smith, will now stand trial for the genocide in this country. The Americans are still chasing after the Nazis and we will also start looking for the whites who fought with Smith. They must be arrested," Mugabe said.
Smith is the former prime minister of the minority white government who relinquished power in 1979 and the country became independent in 1980. The mostly peaceful transition occurred after a bloody war against guerrillas led by Mugabe and other black leaders ended with a ceasefire and amnesties for both sides.
Smith Thursday reacted to Mugabe's threats by saying he would be glad to go on trial as it would give him the opportunity to tell the world what was happening in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe's comments came as political tensions continued to run high in the southern African country.
Once seen as a progressive liberator of his people, the 76-year-old president has become widely reviled. He is accused of presiding over of the looting of state coffers and responsibility for the country's current economic mess.
"Like several other corrupt African leaders Mugabe should be held responsible for the economic quagmire in our nation," said Dr. Boaz Chitambe, a visiting Zimbabwean professor at the University of Nairobi.
"Lately he has acted as a pariah, [affecting] the flow of international aid and foreign investments to the country."
"Once seen as a showcase of economic success in Africa, Zimbabwe has been
turned into a pale shadow of itself by Mugabe because of resisting change
and clinging to power, even against the will of the majority citizens," said Andrew Nyaraba, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi's department of African studies.
Earlier this year Mugabe sanctioned the seizing by force of white-owned commercial farms, for redistribution to landless blacks. No compensation was offered to the owners.
The move, and violence associated with a subsequent election campaign in which at least 33 people died, prompted the U.S. and other Western donors to cut or suspend aid.
In the June parliamentary election, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) came within a hair's breath of overturning ZANU-PF's previously overwhelming majority.
The MDC has now launched impeachment proceedings against Mugabe, against the backdrop of a deepening economic crisis that sparked food-price riots last week, as well as the continuing confiscation of white-owned farms.
In his speech Wednesday, Mugabe singled out for arrest two white MDC lawmakers, David Coltart and Mike Auret.
"Coltart and Auret will not be spared from that arrest," he was quoted as saying.
Coltart, who is also the MDC's secretary for legal affairs, said Mugabe's threat would not stand up in court due to amnesties granted to both sides after the liberation war.
"A variety of amnesties have been declared over the years, including one in 1980 which also covered members of the Smith regime and that remains the law," he said.
A Gallup survey released on Wednesday shows that one in two Zimbabweans want Mugabe to resign and face prosecution for election-related violence and a bloody government crackdown against opposition supporters in the 1980s.
Even Mugabe's ally in Pretoria, South African President Thabo Mbeki, appears to have turned on him.
On Wednesday he issued a scathing attack on state-condoned violence, and said the occupation of white-owned farms was wrong and unacceptable.
"This conflict is wrong. This approach, this occupation of farms, the seizure of farms, the disregard for the law, these things are wrong, these things must be addressed," he said.
Mugabe is up for re-election in 2002.