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No crisis in Zimbabwe, says Mbeki

South African President Thabo Mbeki said on Saturday there was ”no crisis” in Zimbabwe after holding his first face-to-face talks with Robert Mugabe since the country’s disputed March 29 elections.

Mbeki, who stopped in Harare on his way to join Southern African leaders in Zambia for an emergency meeting on Zimbabwe, said people should wait for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to announce the long-awaited presidential result.

”There has been a natural process taking place and we are all awaiting the ZEC to announce the results, and there is also the matter of the court case,” he said, referring to an opposition legal bid to force the result. ”The body authorised to release the results is the ZEC. Let’s wait for them to announce the results.”

As president of the regional power South Africa, Mbeki has come under fire for his muted response to the situation in Zimbabwe where two weeks after the presidential election, no result has yet been announced.

Mugabe, who has kept a low profile since the polls, did not mention the election but denied he was snubbing the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Lusaka called by Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa.

”We are very good friends and very good brothers. Sometimes you attend, sometimes you have other things holding you back,” he said.

Mbeki confirmed he had earlier in the week met opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is claiming outright victory in the poll and has called on Mugabe to stand down.

The opposition says Tsvangirai won enough votes to be assured of the presidency and accuses Mugabe of leading an intimidation campaign that would render any second ballot undemocratic.

”They don’t see why there is a need for a rerun,” Mbeki said. ”If nobody wins a clear majority, the law provides for a second run. If that happens, I would not describe it as a crisis. It’s a normal electoral process in terms of the law of Zimbabwe.”

Tsvangirai was in Lusaka, pressing his claim to have won the poll and urging regional leaders to pressure Mugabe to stand down so he can form a government of national unity.

Tendai Biti, secretary general of Tsvangirai’s party, said the military had taken control of Zimbabwe and urged action by Southern African leaders who failed to criticise Mugabe in the past.

The leaders ”must speak strongly and decisively against the dictatorship and against the status quo in respect of which our people are suffering, our people are being brutalised, our people are being traumatised”, he told AP Television News in Lusaka.

Mbeki was the chief mediator between Zimbabwe’s governing Zanu-PF party and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the build-up to the election.

His comments after meeting Mugabe were similar to his earlier remarks one week ago, when he urged ”patience” and described the situation in Zimbabwe as ”manageable”.

Mbeki’s rival and likely successor Jacob Zuma, the head of the African National Congress, has been far more outspoken on the crisis facing the country’s northern neighbour.

”Zimbabwe is something we need to take very serious note of,” he said late on Thursday in Durban. ”We have never heard of elections being conducted and counted and the commission not allowing the result.

”I have never heard of this. It is only in Zimbabwe. It is unprecedented. I think we should urge and plead with our brothers and sisters to resolve the problem so that Zimbabwe will not be plunged into a more serious crisis.”

Instead, he sent three hard-line ministers from his outgoing Cabinet, a move considered a snub to his counterparts. It was a rare move by Mugabe, who has regularly appeared at regional and international meetings despite international condemnation of his administration.

Zuma met Tsvangirai earlier in the week during the opposition’s first foreign trip since the elections.

The MDC called on Friday on Zimbabweans to launch a general strike next week and to remain off work until the result of the election is made public.

In a sign of the growing tension in Harare, police announced on Friday a ban on all political rallies and riot police could be seen deployed on street corners.

At the previous SADC summit seven months ago, leaders gave Mugabe a standing ovation, just months after a crackdown in which police beat Tsvangirai so badly he had to be hospitalised. — AFP, Sapa-AP

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