President Robert Mugabe and his chief rival will attend an emergency summit of Southern African leaders to present their conflicting views of the crisis paralysing the country in the wake of hotly contested elections, spokespersons for the men said on Thursday.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says its candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the March 29 vote outright, and accuses Mugabe of delaying the results so he can orchestrate a run-off and give ruling-party militants time to intimidate voters and ensure he wins a second election.
However, Tsvangirai will not take part in a presidential run-off, the party’s secretary general, Tendai Biti, said on Thursday. “We will not participate in a rerun of elections because we won that election hands down without a need for a rerun,” Biti told a press conference in Johannesburg.
With no resolution in sight, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa called an emergency summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for Saturday to discuss the crisis.
“Such meetings are usually very healthy so heads of state can brief each other, not only us in Zimbabwe,” Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said. But he added the meeting wasn’t necessary. “There is no crisis in Zimbabwe that warrants a special meeting on Zimbabwe,” he said.
Mwanawasa had originally planned to send a delegation of former heads of state to Zimbabwe but decided to hold an urgent summit instead because the situation had grown so serious, Zambian state radio reported.
Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga confirmed Mugabe would be at the meeting. “If there is a SADC meeting of heads of state, then obviously he will attend,” he said.
Tsvangirai will also attend the summit, said MDC spokesperson Nqobizitha Mlilo. “He is a head of state himself as well,” Mlilo said, reiterating the opposition’s insistence that Tsvangirai had won the election.
Meanwhile, Tsvangirai’s lawyer was arrested on Thursday in Harare. Innocent Chagonda was picked up by the police at lunchtime. Though limited information was available, Irene Petras, the director for Lawyers for Human Rights, confirmed that he was taken to Rhodesville police station.
Petras said it was unclear on which charges Chagonda was picked up by the police. He is a partner in the firm Atherstone and Cook and sits on various company boards in Zimbabwe.
Tsvangirai, who was travelling throughout the region to ask Mugabe’s peers to push him to end the stand-off, was headed on Thursday to South Africa to meet President Thabo Mbeki, Mlilo said.
He intended to “impress upon President Mbeki that Mugabe must concede defeat”, Mlilo said. Tsvangirai would head to Zambia on Friday in advance of the summit, he said.
South African officials said they were trying to find time for Mbeki to meet Tsvangirai. “If Mr Tsvangirai is in town and before the president leaves for the next meeting and his programme allows it, it is important to hear what Mr Tsvangirai has to say,” said Aziz Pahad, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister.
As part of his regional tour, Tsvangirai on Wednesday met Botswana President Seretse Khama Ian Khama. “Definitely I think the Botswana president was very helpful to us … he would also like to participate in assisting in whatever way he can to resolve the crisis,” Tsvangirai aide George Sibotshiwe said.
African leaders previously deferred to Mbeki and his strategy of “quiet diplomacy” on dealing with Zimbabwe. Mwanawasa has stood out as the only Southern African leader to criticise Mugabe’s policies publicly, last year likening the country’s economy to “a sinking Titanic“.
The MDC’s Biti said regional leaders should push for Mugabe’s resignation.
“We don’t know why the world has to wait until dead bodies start littering the streets of Harare,” he said on Wednesday.
The High Court will decide on Monday whether to grant an opposition request for the presidential election results to be released, lawyers for the MDC and the election commission said.
On Thursday, the Catholic Church in Southern Africa called for the appointment of a high-level mediator in Zimbabwe, citing the role former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan played in negotiating Kenya’s electoral crisis as an example.
The Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, which is influential in the region, spoke in a statement to the South African Press Association.
United States President George Bush on Thursday called on Zimbabwe’s election authorities to release the results from the presidential vote, the White House said.
In a telephone conversation with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Bush “reiterated calls by the US for the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission to release the presidential election results as soon as possible and that they reflect the will of the people”, said spokesperson Gordon Johndroe.
“Recent arrests of journalists and activists are deeply troubling and need to stop,” Johndroe said in a statement.
Meanwhile, trial continued for a Briton and an American arrested for allegedly reporting on the election without proper accreditation. The two were released on bail on Monday but their passports are being held and they have not been allowed to leave the country.