/ 22 June 2008

Halt violence, White House tells Zim ‘thugs’

The White House on Sunday demanded that Zimbabwe’s government and its ”thugs” halt election violence immediately, after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai quit a presidential run-off vote.

”The government of Zimbabwe and its thugs must stop the violence now,” White House spokesperson Carlton Carroll said in a statement.

The statement did not specifically address Tsvangirai’s withdrawal from the run-off, on the grounds that violence by the regime of President Robert Mugabe had made a fair vote impossible.

But Carroll said: ”All parties should be able to participate in a legitimate election and not be subject to the intimidation and unlawful actions of the government, armed militias and so-called war veterans.”

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged ”broader and stronger international action” to end the worsening pre-poll violence in Zimbabwe and ensure a free and fair presidential vote later this month.

Chairing an informal meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Zimbabwe, she said that ”by its actions the Mugabe regime has given up any pretense that the June 27 election will be allowed to proceed in a free and fair manner”.

”We have reached the point where broader, stronger international action is needed,” she said.

In late March, Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the first round of the presidential vote, but election officials said he fell short of an outright majority and had to face Mugabe in the June 27 run-off.

Sunday’s decision by Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, almost certainly handed victory by default to Mugabe (84), who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980.

”We in the MDC cannot ask them [supporters] to cast their vote on the 27th when that vote would cost them their lives,” Tsvangirai told reporters.

”We will no longer participate in the violent illegitimate sham of an election process,” he said, arguing that Mugabe had ”declared war by saying that the bullet has replaced the ballot”.

Rice had slammed what she called an ”orchestrated campaign of violence and harassment” by the Mugabe government, accusing its supporters, ”including police and so-called war veterans”, of having killed more than 60 opposition supporters, injured thousands and intimidated or displaced many more. — Sapa-AFP