Mugabe: I'm the president and that's that

Staff Reporter

Robert Mugabe said on Friday he is only open to negotiations on an end to Zimbabwe's political crisis if he is accepted as the country's president.

Robert Mugabe said on Friday he is only open to negotiations on an end to Zimbabwe’s political crisis if he is accepted as the country’s president following his widely condemned one-man election.

“I am the president of the Republic of Zimbabwe and that is the reality,” Mugabe told supporters at Harare airport after flying back home from an African Union summit in Egypt. “Everybody has to accept that if they want dialogue.”

The 84-year-old leader said “there shall never be acceptance to us of anything else but the meaning and significance of the vote passed on the 27th of June”.

Speaking of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), he said: “Let them not delude themselves into ever believing we will reverse that, never ever.”

He added that “if they agree on that and we are satisfied, then we shall go into dialogue and listen to them by way of ideas. Those votes can never be thrown away as the British want. They are mad, insane.”

Mugabe, who has often sought to portray his rival and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai as a stooge of former colonial power Britain, said last Friday’s run-off “was a total rejection of British policy towards Zimbabwe”.

Tsvangirai boycotted the vote, citing rising violence against his supporters that he blamed on Mugabe thugs. The opposition said on Friday more than 100 of its supporters had been killed and 1 500 arrested in the crackdown. Those arrested included 20 legislators or parliamentary candidates.

The MDC also said that 5 000 supporters, including polling agents and candidates for local councils, were missing.

Mugabe arrived back home to a hero’s welcome by thousands of supporters on Friday following the AU summit, where he avoided serious censure over his country’s political crisis. AU leaders shunned calls for his suspension or the imposition of sanctions and instead passed a resolution calling for the formation of a national unity government.

While Western powers have pushed for sanctions following Mugabe’s re-election, South African President Thabo Mbeki has warned against imposing a solution from the outside.

Mbeki, the regionally appointed mediator for Zimbabwe, has faced criticism over his quiet diplomacy approach to the crisis.

Mugabe has, however, expressed gratitude to Mbeki, and on Friday reiterated his call for the South African leader to remain in his role as mediator. “We are happy that Mbeki continues to be the facilitator,” Mugabe said. “He has done nothing wrong.”

Call for election
Meanwhile, the European Union called on Friday for a new election as soon as possible in Zimbabwe after a short transition from the rule of Mugabe.

“The European Union will only accept a formula which respects the will of the Zimbabwean people as it was expressed in the elections of March 29 2008,” a statement by the French EU presidency said.

“The result of this vote must be the basis for a political settlement ... This transition period must be as brief as possible,” the statement said.

“The aim of any solution must be the rapid holding of a new, free, democratic and transparent consultation of the Zimbabwean people,” it said.

The EU, which refused to recognise Mugabe’s victory, called for an end to all forms of violence and said it is prepared to study quickly “appropriate individual measures against those responsible for this violence”.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and the European Commission have said the EU will only accept an interim government that is headed by Tsvangirai.

Strong measures
On Thursday, the United States pushed for a United Nations travel ban and an assets freeze on Mugabe and 13 of his cronies in protest against the presidential run-off vote.

US ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad formally introduced a sanctions resolution, also including an arms embargo on the Harare regime, in the Security Council, and said he hoped it would be voted upon by the 15-member body next week.

The US draft would also direct UN chief Ban Ki-moon to appoint a special representative “who would support the negotiation process between the political parties in Zimbabwe”.

Diplomatic sources said former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who helped broker a power-sharing agreement in Kenya last February, former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, Nigerian ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo and Ghanaian President John Kufuor were being considered for the mission.

While some African leaders, including Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, have openly condemned Mugabe, criticism from the continent has remained limited.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, a harsh critic of Mugabe, was not able to participate in the AU debates after suffering a stroke. He remained hospitalised on Friday.—Sapa-AFP, Reuters

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