President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri(reuters_tickers)
HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's government hit back at the leader of its neighbour Botswana on Friday, accusing him of breaking a taboo by calling for the departure of its 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe.
Harare said it was shocked by comments from Botswana's President Ian Khama, in an interview with Reuters, that Mugabe should step aside without delay for the sake of Zimbabwe and the region.
"We sincerely hope that this will be the last time Botswana's leader opens his mouth to bad-mouth President Mugabe and fellow African leaders," Zimbabwe's Information Minister Chris Mushohwe said in a statement.
Khama should have kept his views to himself or, if he really felt strongly about it, passed them on privately through diplomatic channels, said Mushohwe.
"The government of Zimbabwe is shocked by this uncharactresitic behaviour on the part of President Khama. It is taboo in African etiquette and diplomacy," Mushohwe said.
"Why should President Mugabe be removed from office unconstitutionally as President Khama's sentiments seem to suggest?" he added.
Khama told Reuters this week that Zimbabwe needed a new leadership to deal with a political and economic implosion that has dragged down the whole of southern Africa since 2000.
"It is obvious that at his (Mugabe's) age and the state Zimbabwe is in, he's not really able to provide the leadership that could get it out of its predicament," Khama said.
Botswana, the world's largest producer of diamonds, shares 800 km (500 miles) of border with Zimbabwe and has felt the full effects of its neighbour's economic collapse under the weight of political violence and hyperinflation.
Although Zimbabwe's economy stabilised in 2009 with the scrapping of the worthless Zimbabwe dollar, a slump in commodity prices over the last two years has triggered a cash crunch that has fed through into unprecedented public protests against Mugabe.
Factions of Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party are locked in a bitter struggle to succeed the only leader Zimbabwe has known, but no clear potential successor has emerged.
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Andrew Heavens)