SYDNEY (AFP) - Zimbabwe's ambassador to Australia has asked Canberra for asylum, lashing out at her country's "illegitimate" government and voicing fears for her safety if she returns home at the end of her posting next week, reports said on Saturday.
Jacqueline Zwambila said July elections in Zimbabwe had been "stolen" by President Robert Mugabe's government and she had no intention of using her business class ticket to return home, the Canberra Times reported.
"I don't feel safe about returning to Zimbabwe at all," said Zwambila, who is aligned with Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
"Once the elections of 31 July were stolen by the current government - which is illegitimate - I knew that this was the end of the line," Zwambila, whose tenure as ambassador ends on Tuesday, said in a video posted on the Canberra Times website.
"End of the line for the people of Zimbabwe... and for people like me, who were appointed by the ex-prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai."
Zwambila said she was seeking a protection visa from Australia so she can stay on in the country along with her family once her diplomatic status expires.
But it was not immediately clear whether Canberra would approve her request.
Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison would not confirm whether Zwambila had sought asylum, saying he could not comment on individual cases.
"If or when an application for a protection visa is received it would be assessed on its merits and in accordance with the normal rules that apply in these circumstances," he said in a statement.
"The government does not provide commentary on individual cases as it can prejudice their case or, worse, place people at risk. As a result it would be inappropriate to confirm or otherwise comment on any individual application."
Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader who has been in power for 33 years, began a new five-year term after winning a landslide victory in disputed elections end of July.
His rival, opposition leader Tsvangirai, described the vote as "fraudulent", citing an unusual number of voters turned away in urban constituencies that are considered opposition strongholds.
Australia, which had offered reduced sanctions as an incentive for free and fair elections, joined the United States and Britain in questioning the credibility of the polls and called for a re-run.
But the 89-year-old veteran leader dismissed the view, brusquely telling his opponents to accept defeat.
Zwambila said that when she learned about Mugabe's victory, she saw "doom, a black cloud".
"I knew then it was the end of my term," the report quoted her as saying.
The ambassador voiced fears of indefinite detention if she returned home, saying she had been threatened with arrest in Zimbabwe after a court found that she owed several hundred dollars to a tradesman.
She denied the charge.
"So many things have been done to me since I've been here in Australia, the smear campaigns and threats... There is no way I feel safe being in Zimbabwe or going back to Zimbabwe," she said.
Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, is serving under a new constitution and has not ruled out running again when he will be 94.
Tsvangirai had shared power with Mugabe until the July elections, with his MDC party controlling the finance ministry after they forged a unity government in 2009 following violent disputed polls.
But the shaky power-sharing deal ended when the veteran president won the July 31 polls with 61 per cent against his rival's 34 per cent.