Mugabe defies pressure to stop vote

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday defied mounting pressure from both inside and outside Africa to call off Friday’s presidential election, saying he had a legal obligation to go ahead.

Both Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma said the presidential run-off must be postponed after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the vote and fled to the Dutch embassy in Harare.

The United Nations Security Council issued an unprecedented and unanimous condemnation of violence against Tsvangirai’s supporters. It was supported by South Africa, China and Russia who have previously blocked such moves.

‘The West can scream all it wants’
But Mugabe shrugged off the pressure and the US ambassador to Zimbabwe said the world could not stop the run-off election.

“The West can scream all it wants. Elections will go on.
Those who want to recognise our legitimacy can do so, those who don’t want, should not,” Mugabe said at a rally in western Zimbabwe.

International concern is mounting over Zimbabwe’s political turmoil and economic meltdown, blamed by the West and the opposition on Mugabe, who has held uninterrupted power for 28 years.

Wade said in a statement that Tsvangirai took refuge after being tipped off that soldiers were on the way to his house. “He is only safe because, alerted by friends, he left in a hurry a few minutes earlier,” Wade said.

Mugabe denied that Tsvangirai was in danger.

“Tsvangirai is frightened. He has run to seek refuge at the Dutch embassy. What for? These are voters, they will do you no harm. Political harm, yes, because they will vote against you. No one wants to kill Tsvangirai”.

Out of control
Zuma called for urgent intervention by the United Nations and the Southern African Development Community, saying the situation in Zimbabwe was out of control.

“The ANC says the run-off is no longer a solution, you need a political arrangement first ... then elections down the line,” Zuma said.

Mugabe said he would not refuse to negotiate with Tsvangirai but the vote must go ahead. “For now there is only one thing for us to accomplish ... it’s the legal process on the 27th of June,” the 84-year-old president said.

Tsvangirai spent a second night in the Dutch embassy on Monday. He told Dutch Radio 1 on Tuesday that his refuge was temporary and the government had assured the Dutch ambassador that he would not be hurt. Tsvangirai has not claimed asylum.

He said he could leave in the next few days.

SADC foreign ministers discussed the crisis in the Angolan capital Luanda on Monday.

The state-run Angop news agency said SADC executive secretary Tomaz Salomao told reporters the group agreed with Tsvangirai that a “climate of extreme violence” existed in Zimbabwe and the government must protect its citizens.

US ambassador James McGee said SADC must declare both the election and Mugabe’s government illegitimate.

A non-binding statement by the Security Council in New York condemned “the campaign of violence against the political opposition ... which has resulted in the killing of scores of opposition activists and other Zimbabweans and the beating and displacement of thousands of people, including many women and children”.

The MDC formally confirmed the decision to pull out in a letter delivered to the electoral commission on Tuesday, a party spokesperson said.

South Africa, an advocate of “quiet diplomacy” with Mugabe, said it was “very pleased” with the UN statement because it “assists us in the mediation”.

Mbeki, the designated regional mediator in the crisis, has resisted calls to use Pretoria’s powerful economic leverage over landlocked Zimbabwe.

But Zuma, who toppled Mbeki as ANC leader last December, has become increasingly outspoken over the crisis.

ANC suggests way forward
The ANC said in a statement on Tuesday that while MDC’s withdrawal indicated the depth of the political crisis, it provided an opportunity to commence a dialogue to “arrive at a workable political solution”.

“Since 2001 the ANC and other political parties in this region have witnessed the tragic socioeconomic decline of Zimbabwe. The political impasse in that country today compounds the negative consequences of an economy that appears to have gone into terminal decline and that has already resulted in massive migration to neighbouring states,” said the statement..

“It has always been and continues to be the view of our movement that the challenges facing Zimbabwe can only be solved by the Zimbabweans themselves. Nothing that has happened in the recent months has persuaded us to revise that view. A lasting solution has to be led by the Zimbabweans and any attempts by outside players to impose regime change will merely deepen the crisis.”

The ANC said it was mindful of the obligations Britain assumed in relation to Zimbabwe at the Lancaster House talks.

“Chief amongst these was resolution of the land question, ie. undoing the consequences of well nigh 100 years of British colonial domination. A large measure of responsibility for the current crisis is attributable to the ex-colonial power because it has reneged on that undertaking.”

“The ugly incidents and scenes that have been visited on the people of Zimbabwe persuade us that a run-off presidential election offers no solution to Zimbabwe’s crisis. In a society that is already highly polarised, a run-off election will only serve to widen the divisions. The very legitimacy of the run-off has already been severely compromised by the actions of both Zanu-PF militants and those of state officials who do not even conceal their partiality in favour of the governing party.

“There can be no solution except through a dialogue in earnest amongst all the political players in Zimbabwe, involving the people of that country. The ANC will play its role, within the framework of the SADC mandate, in searching for a solution that will bring an end to the suffering of the Zimbabwean people.

“We have noted, with grave concern, the statements of the Zimbabwean government to the effect that the run-off elections will proceed as planned. We urge the government of Zimbabwe to apply its mind, dispassionately, to the situation at hand in its country and our region. We appeal to the government to take up the challenge of finding a negotiated settlement to the current impasse. - Reuters, Staff reporter

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