Harare - Zimbabwean government critics on Thursday slammed a decision to award the Chinese equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize to the country's controversial leader of 35 years, Robert Mugabe.
The decision is "an attack on the people of Zimbabwe," said Luke Tamborinyoka, spokesperson for the main opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The Confucius Peace Prize was established in 2010 in response to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo winning the Nobel Peace Prize the same year.
Mugabe was chosen for having "worked hard to bring political and economic order into the country and to improve the welfare" of Zimbabweans, the prize committee said.
Tamborinyoka said the award was "an attack on the people of Zimbabwe who bore the brunt of state-sponsored violence" when hundreds of opposition supporters were allegedly attacked to ensure Mugabe's victory in the 2008 elections.
Kumbirai Mafunda from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said it was "perplexing that any serious organisation would consider President Mugabe for any honour."
Several human rights or pro-democracy activists have disappeared in Zimbabwe recently, Mafunda pointed out.
Mugabe's spokesperson George Charamba declined to comment on the award, saying he was still to be briefed on it.
Expulsion of white farmers
It was not known if Mugabe, whose health is said to be failing, will travel to China to collect about $79 000 in prize money.
Zimbabwe developed strong relations with China after its ties with the West chilled over the expulsion of white farmers - sometimes violently - and human rights abuses more than a decade ago.
Mugabe's critics accuse him of trying to gag the opposition and of wrecking the country's economy.