Pressure builds on Zim to postpone vote

African pressure mounted on Wednesday to postpone Zimbabwe’s presidential run-off election set for Friday, but authorities said it would go ahead despite a storm of international condemnation.

A security troika of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting in Swaziland urged postponement, and a South African spokesperson said a top negotiator in Harare was discussing options, including calling off the vote.

But Zimbabwe’s Electoral Commission (ZEC) ruled that last Sunday’s withdrawal from the election by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was filed too late and had no legal force.

Tsvangirai, who pulled out of the contest against President Robert Mugabe because of attacks on his followers, said the vote was a sham and called for the African Union, backed by the United Nations, to lead a transition in Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai spoke at a press conference at his home after leaving the Dutch embassy where he took refuge after announcing the pull-out last Sunday. But he returned to the embassy later.

ZEC chairperson George Chiweshe said Tsvangirai’s withdrawal last Sunday had been filed too late to have any legal effect.

“Accordingly, the commission does not recognise the purported withdrawal. We are, therefore, proceeding with the presidential election run-off this Friday as planned.”

Tsvangirai told reporters during the brief news conference: “I am asking the AU and SADC to lead an expanded initiative supported by the UN to manage what I will call a transitional process.”

The opposition leader said the election would not be accepted either by Zimbabweans or the world.
He called on the AU to discuss the crisis next weekend at a summit in Egypt.

Pressure has mounted both inside and outside Africa to call off the vote since Tsvangirai withdrew. Mugabe (84) is now certain to be elected to extend his 28-year rule.

The SADC troika said conditions in Zimbabwe were not conducive to a fair poll.

South African government spokesperson Themba Maseko said a top negotiator was in Zimbabwe to broker talks. Pretoria is SADC’s designated mediator in the crisis on its borders, although President Thabo Mbeki has been widely criticised for taking an ineffective soft line with Mugabe.

“The facilitation talks between the various parties in Zimbabwe are looking at all aspects that will bring a possible settlement ... all options are being considered which would, I suspect, include the possibility of a postponement,” Maseko said.

Meanwhile, a group of about three hundred Zimbabweans on Wednesday sought refuge at the South African embassy in Harare, a Pretoria government spokesperson said.

“The South African government confirms that a group of about 300 alleged [opposition] Movement for Democratic Change supporters have converged on the South African embassy in Harare ... seeking refuge,” foreign affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said.

“South Africa’s ambassador to Zimbabwe and his team of diplomats are currently engaged in talks with the group to find a resolution to the matter,” he said.

‘Mark of revulsion’
Britain has stripped Mugabe of his honorary British knighthood as a “mark of revulsion”, the Foreign Office in London said on Wednesday.

Queen Elizabeth II has approved the annulment of the honour, on the recommendation of Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

“This action has been taken as a mark of revulsion at the abuse of human rights and abject disregard for the democratic process in Zimbabwe over which President Mugabe has presided,” a Foreign Office spokesperson said.

Mugabe was awarded the honorary knighthood in 1994 by then-prime minister John Major’s government.

It is very rare move for the queen to strip someone of their honours.

Until recently some officials had reportedly argued that Britain should not strip Mugabe of his honour since it might be perceived as a petty and colonial move.

Military intervention
South Africa does not believe there is a need for military intervention in Zimbabwe, its deputy minister of foreign affairs said on Wednesday amid calls for peacekeepers from that country’s opposition leader.

“In our experience it is easy to talk about military action but putting it into effect is much more difficult,” said Aziz Pahad. “We do not believe there is any need for it in Zimbabwe. It is not realistic, not possible.”

Pahad said there was obvious concern about violence since the March election.

“We have no alternative but to make every possible effort to get parties talking to each other and reaching an agreement,” he said.

“It is common cause that Mbeki’s efforts had brought about elections on March 29. No other head of state has been subjected to such systematic international attacks as President Mbeki has on Zimbabwe.”

According to Pahad, Mbeki was due to attend a meeting being organised on Zimbabwe in Swaziland with other regional leaders that could occur as early as later Wednesday.—Reuters, Sapa, AFP

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