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24 Jun 2008 07:05
The United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed to take its first formal action on Zimbabwe by ruling that a free and fair presidential election run-off was impossible because of violence.
The council, including South Africa, China and Russia that had previously long opposed discussion on Zimbabwe, made the decision on Monday hours after The Netherlands said opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had taken refuge in its Harare embassy.
Tsvangirai had not requested asylum but spent Sunday night in the embassy and was welcome to stay for his own security, said Dutch officials. The opposition leader withdrew from the run-off on Sunday saying he did not want further bloodshed.
The UN ruling echoed mounting international concern over Zimbabwe’s political turmoil and economic meltdown, blamed by the West and the opposition on 84-year-old President Robert Mugabe who has held power for 28 years.
Mugabe’s government said the election would still go ahead on Friday and the Zimbabwean leader repeated accusations that former colonial power Britain and other Western countries were lying about the violence because they wanted to interfere.
“The Security Council regrets that the campaign of violence and the restrictions on the political opposition have made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place on June 27,” the 15-nation body said in its non-binding statement.
The council’s statement was watered down from an earlier British-drafted version, which explicitly blamed Mugabe’s government for the crisis and said Tsvangirai would be the legitimate leader if a credible run-off vote could not be held.
But the final version said the council “notes that the results of the [March 29 elections] must be respected”.
Tsvangirai won that first-round, though the government said his narrow victory meant a run-off was necessary.
South Africa, an advocate of “quiet diplomacy” with Mugabe, said it was “very pleased” with the statement because it “assists us in the mediation”.
In his strongest comments on Zimbabwe, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters: “There has been too much violence and too much intimidation.” The opposition says nearly 90 of its supporters have been killed.
Mugabe was quoted by state-controlled media as saying at a rally on Monday: “Britain and her allies are telling a lot of lies about Zimbabwe, saying a lot of people are dying ... They want to build a situation to justify their intervention.”
Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said police raided its Harare offices and took away more than 60 victims of violence sheltering there, including women and children.
Zimbabwe police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri said the police had been “shocked and surprised” by Tsvangirai’s decision to seek refuge in the Dutch embassy.
“It is obviously a calculated move to besmirch the presidential run-off election ... and further brutalise the image of Zimbabwe,” Chihuri told a news conference. “We wonder from whom Mr Tsvangirai is running away or hiding.”
When he announced his withdrawal on Sunday, Tsvangirai said his supporters would have been risking their lives if they had voted but that he was ready to negotiate with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party if the violence stopped.
The political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe has sent millions of refugees flooding into neighbouring countries.
The African Union and Southern African Development Community were discussing the situation after Tsvangirai’s pull-out.
United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said even if the run-off went ahead it would not legitimise Mugabe’s government.
Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, has vowed never to hand over to the opposition, branding its officials as puppets of the West.
He denies his supporters are responsible for the violence, which broke out after he and Zanu-PF lost the March 29 polls.
Mugabe has presided over a slide into economic chaos, including 80% unemployment and the world’s highest inflation rate of at least 165 000%.—Reuters
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