BBC sneaks into country

LONDON - The British Broadcasting Corporation has defied a ban on reporting from Zimbabwe by staging an undercover trip which revealed challenges to President Robert Mugabe from within his own party.

LONDON - The British Broadcasting Corporation has defied a ban on reporting from Zimbabwe by staging an undercover trip which revealed challenges to President Robert Mugabe from within his own party.

BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson spent a week in Zimbabwe carrying out interviews and filming, he told BBC radio after leaving Zimbabwe on Monday.

"I didn't feel I was in deadly danger. I think probably I would have faced a nasty term of imprisonment, but a short one, be paraded around and pushed about a bit," said Simpson, whose only disguise was a baseball cap.

In one of a series of reports, Simpson said that a leading figure in the ruling Zanu-PF party was planning to mount a challenge against Mugabe.

Simba Makoni, a former finance minister under Mugabe, now looks set to run against him in national elections scheduled for March, he said, reporting "growing opposition" to Mugabe from within the party's ranks.

But he reported that there was no serious risk of a popular uprising in the country which has record inflation.

"Everybody is gloomy about the immediate future," said Simpson.

"Living standards are pretty difficult," he said, but added that any change in government would likely only come via political moves.

"If it does come it will be through simply a split in the ruling party as seems to be in offing," he said.

The BBC is banned in the former British colony, but is widely watched via satellite and other means.

"The trouble is that so many people watch the BBC in Zimbabwe and fairly regular appearances . make you stand out a bit. I did in fact get recognised several times."

Simpson left Zimbabwe for South Africa on Monday, just as the first of his reports was aired in Britain, the BBC said. - Sapa-AFP

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