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After Ahmadinejad visit, Zimbabwe now set to host North Korea World Cup team

Days after Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stopped by, Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe gets ready to host North Korea's soccer team in the run-up to the World Cup.

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“Sport is different from politics," says Muzembi. "It is unfortunate that people mix these things. I wouldn't want to make this a political issue. It’s purely a sports issue.”

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MDC slams visit

Morgan Tsvangirai, prime minister in a fragile power-sharing government with Mugabe and once a top rival of Mugabe, has not spoken publicly about the North Korean decision, but a source in his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said the party was unhappy.

"As a party we condemn the scandalous invitation of North Korea," an MDC spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to security concerns. "The team’s presence here instead of South Africa will definitely send the wrong message about the kind of company we keep at a time when the people of Africa and the whole world think we are beginning to move in the right direction. The visit puts a huge dent on the image of the country and could scare away any potential investors.”

Rogue solidarity

The soccer team’s arrival follows a high-powered visit by North Korea's political leadership, including the country's No. 2 leader, Kim Yong-nam, to Harare last May. That followed the discovery of uranium in northern Zimbabwe, but Mugabe said it would only ever be used to boost energy supplies.

Political analyst Takura Zhangazha, a former director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, said the invitation was a snub not only to the victims of the massacres but also the MDC.

“Their [North Korea's] presence in Zimbabwe is a confirmation of solidarity between the so-called rogue states with [Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party]," says Mr. Zhangazha. "There is high suspicion that deals between Zimbabwe and the country were done in the past and this is just a way to give flesh to it.”

Another political observer, John Akokpari, a senior lecturer in political studies at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, said it represented an "act of solidarity" with another rogue state.

“Mugabe is swimming against the tide of opinion in Africa against North Korea. The two countries have always enjoyed a close friendship, regardless of what the West thinks," says Mr. Akopari. “They know how this looks outside Zimbabwe and inside, but do they care? I don’t think so.”

--- A correspondent who could not be named due to security concerns contributed from Harare, Zimbabwe.