Mugabe: 'Our elections have been free'

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Thursday rejected African calls to postpone a presidential election on Friday, saying there could be no interference in his country even from the African Union.

Mugabe (84) who is bound to extend his 28-year-rule in the one candidate election, said he was open to discussions with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Its leader Morgan Tsvangirai has withdrawn from the election after a wave of deadly attacks on his supporters.

Addressing a campaign rally in Chitungwiza, south of Harare, Mugabe said: “We have some of our brothers in Africa making that call [to postpone the vote], pushing us to violate our own law and we have refused to do so, we are sticking to our law.”

Mugabe said he would attend an African Union summit in Egypt next weekend but no solutions could be imposed on Zimbabwe from outside. He said he was ready to answer any challenge from within the AU to the elections.

“I know some people are gearing themselves for an attack on Zimbabwe.
I want to see any country which will raise its finger in the AU, our elections have been free.”

A security committee of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on Wednesday called for the vote to be postponed, saying Mugabe’s re-election as the only candidate could lack legitimacy because of chronic political violence.

The committee includes AU chairperson Tanzania.

Tsvangirai last Sunday pulled out of the vote because of violence that he says has killed almost 90 of his supporters. He has taken refuge in the Dutch embassy ever since.

Tsvangirai said earlier there could be no negotiations with Mugabe if he went ahead with Friday’s election.

He said that if Mugabe declared himself president he would be shunned as an illegitimate leader who killed his own people.

Mandela joins condemnation
World icon Nelson Mandela added his voice to a storm of African and international condemnation of the violence and chaos in Zimbabwe, in a rare political statement that showed the level of concern.

Mugabe, president since independence from Britain, has presided over Zimbabwe’s slide from one of the region’s most prosperous nations to a basket case with inflation estimated to have hit at least 2 000 000%.

A loaf of bread now costs Z$6-billion, or 150 times more than at the time of the first round of elections on March 29 when Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe but fell short of the absolute majority needed for an outright victory.

Mugabe blames the crisis on sanctions by former colonial ruler Britain and other Western countries.

Zimbabwean police said Britain and the United States were backing plans by Tsvangirai’s MDC and some NGOs to disrupt Friday’s vote with violence, including burning down voting tents.

Assistant commissioner Faustino Mazango told a news conference: “It is evident that the opposition MDC has plans to disrupt the election. These counter-productive criminal activities will be met head-on and with the full force of the law.”

Tsvangirai tried to step up the pressure by telling Mugabe that his chances of negotiating an end to Zimbabwe’s catastrophic collapse would end on Friday.

“Negotiations will be over if Mr Mugabe declares himself the winner and considers himself the president. How can we negotiate?” Tsvangirai told London’s Times newspaper.

In a later interview with Sky News, Tsvangirai challenged South African President Thabo Mbeki, the designated regional mediator in Zimbabwe, to take urgent action to end the crisis.

Mbeki has been widely criticised for being soft on Mugabe despite a crisis that has flooded his country with millions of refugees.

Tsvangirai’s lieutenant Tendai Biti was released on bail on Thursday after being held for two weeks on treason charges. Bail was set at one trillion Zimbabwean dollars—between $90 and $100, his lawyer said.

Mugabe is facing a concerted international campaign to push him into calling off the vote by threatening he will be shunned by the world, including African allies once over-awed by his liberation hero status.

Mandela said in a speech at a dinner for his 90th birthday in London that there had been a “tragic failure of leadership in our neighbouring Zimbabwe”.

The African National Congress, which has been severely critical of Mugabe, in contrast to Mbeki, said it was not too late to call off the vote.

“The ANC is convinced that it is not too late for President Mugabe to cancel the election, the run-off, and lead the country in a dialogue that will be for the good of all Zimbabweans,” spokesperson Jesse Duarte told the BBC. - Reuters

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