/ 25 April 2008

Mugabe snubs foreign pressure on Zim

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Friday rejected foreign criticism of his country as international pressure mounted for him to stand down.

“Zimbabwe has a history and heritage and it will never be afraid. Zimbabwe is not for sale and Zimbabwe will never be a colony again,” Mugabe said at the opening of an international trade fair in the southern city of Bulawayo.

Mugabe also defended his government’s controversial farm seizures, a policy that began in 2000 and seen as marking the beginning of a decline in his 28-year rule over this fertile Southern African nation.

“Our country tried the willing-buyer, willing-seller method of land resettlement and it failed,” Mugabe said.

“It is our land, our treasure, our birthright,” he continued.

Britain, Zimbabwe’s former colonial master, and the United States have pressured Mugabe to stand down after a presidential vote on March 29, which independent observers say was won by his opposition rival, Morgan Tsvangirai.

In his speech, Mugabe thanked several regional organisations, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union, for their “continued support and solidarity”.

Also on Friday, African National Congress president Jacob Zuma called for talks between the government and the opposition to resolve the crisis over last month’s elections.

In Paris for meetings with business leaders, Zuma strongly criticised Zimbabwe election authorities for failing to release the results of the vote that could decide the fate of Mugabe.

“We need to know who won the elections, that is the bottom line, we need to know,” Zuma said.

“But at the same time, I think given the fact that we are almost going for a month now, we need those two parties to talk and find a solution so that the Zimbabwean people don’t suffer.”


Meanwhile, Zimbabwean police raided the headquarters of the opposition and independent election observers on Friday.

Dozens of supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were held in the raid on its offices in downtown Harare in an operation that police said was designed to find the perpetrators of recent arson attacks.

Sources at the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) said police had confiscated a series of documents after rifling through their offices. There were no arrests.

The raids added to mounting tensions in the troubled nation where the final outcome of joint presidential and parliamentary elections is still unknown.

“This is systematic harassment,” said chief opposition spokesperson Nelson Chamisa after the riot squad rounded up a busload of MDC supporters and drove them away for questioning at central police headquarters.

“What is clear is that these people are desperate and they can do anything.”

National police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena said officers had been searching for the perpetrators of a number of recent violent incidents.

“We do know that too many people have taken shelter at the MDC offices and we suspect some of them have committed arson attacks in rural areas and have come to hide in some safe houses,” he said.

There was no immediate word from the police about the raid on the ZESN, but a source in the organisation said that various documents, including old presentations and speeches, had been seized during a four-hour search of their premises.

Figures from the ZESN were cited by the main US envoy for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, when she declared on a visit to South Africa on Thursday that MDC leader Tsvangirai had clearly beaten Mugabe.

After meeting with South African government officials, Frazer then met with Tsvangirai to discuss his recent talks with regional leaders and growing reports of violence on the ground.

“We assured the MDC that we would look at additional international action to address, and bring attention to, the evolving human rights and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe,” Frazer said, according to a statement from the US embassy.

Frazer was also due to meet in Luanda on Friday with Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, a long-time ally of Mugabe.

The authorities in Zimbabwe have consistently maintained that the delay in announcing the presidential election result is down to a meticulous process of collating and verifying ballot papers and have hit out at outside interference. — AFP