Mbeki meets Mugabe ahead of summit

South African President Thabo Mbeki was to hold talks on Saturday with Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe in Harare before heading on to Lusaka for a summit on Zimbabwe’s post-election crisis, an official said.

Mbeki arrived on Saturday morning at Harare airport where he was met by Mugabe. The two presidents, smiling, walked hand in hand and climbed into the same car before being driven offf to State House, an Agence France-Presse correspondent said.

Mbeki was accompanied by Zimbabwe’s ambassador to South Africa, Simon Khaya Moyo, while Mugabe was flanked by his army chief of staff and police chief—two of his staunchest supporters.

Mugabe has chosen not to attend the gathering of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) in the Zambian capital and has instead sent a delegation of ministers.

His rival, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), will be in Lusaka, where he will press his claim to have won the March 29 presidential election and try to win support for pressure to be put on Mugabe to stand down.

As Southern African leaders arrived in Zambia on Saturday for the emergency summit, pressure on

Mugabe’s neighbours to take a tough line with the ageing leader was mounting.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, chairperson of the 14-nation SADC, convened the extraordinary summit to try to resolve the stand-off between Mugabe’s party and the MDC over presidential elections held two weeks.

The refusal of the state-controlled Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to release the official results of the vote has stoked tensions between supporters of the long-time rivals.

The MDC claims Tsvangirai won the presidential election outright and accuses Mugabe of withholding the results to rig them.
Mugabe’s party claims neither Tsvangirai nor Mugabe took more than 50% of the vote and says a second round of voting will be needed.

International attention

Former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan on Friday warned SADC leaders they had “a grave responsibility to act, not only because of the negative spillover effects on the region, but also to ensure that democracy, human rights and the rule of law are respected”.

In a statement late on Friday, British Prime Minister Gordon said the patience of the international community over the ZEC’s refusal to release the election results was “wearing thin”.

But in a sign that any speedy resolution of the impasse was unlikely, Mugabe’s party said he was boycotting the summit because there was “no crisis in Zimbabwe”.

Rural Affairs Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi would attend in his place, the party said.

As both sides became increasingly entrenched, police on Friday announced a ban on all political rallies in Harare until further notice while the MDC called for a nationwide work stayaway beginning on Tuesday to press for the poll results.

In a statement, Tsvangirai said Saturday’s regional meeting was “an historic moment for SADC and a defining moment for Africa”, adding: “We can show the world that we, Africa, can solve our own problems and safeguard democracy and the rule of law.”

The summit was expected, as a minimum, to call for the urgent release of the election results.

Despite his party’s defeat by the MDC in parliamentary elections and the ruinous state of the economy, Mugabe (84) is seeking another five years in power.

Amnesty International has reported widespread violence against opposition supporters since the election in what the MDC claims is an attempt by Mugabe to subdue the population ahead of a possible run-off.—Sapa-AFP, Sapa-dpa

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