Tsvangirai gives Mugabe 24-hour deadline

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai issued a 24-hour deadline to President Robert Mugabe on Thursday to negotiate or face being shunned as an illegitimate leader responsible for the killing of civilians.

From the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the top regional body, to former South African President Nelson Mandela, African leaders have piled increasing pressure on Mugabe to call off a presidential election on Friday.

Mugabe (84), who trailed Tsvangirai for the presidency in a first-round election in March, has dismissed international condemnation of violence against the opposition and has vowed to extend his 28 years in power.

Tsvangirai, who withdrew from Friday’s run-off and has taken refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare since Sunday, said in an interview with Britain’s Times newspaper the time for talking to Mugabe would end if he went ahead with the election.

“Negotiations will be over if Mr Mugabe declares himself the winner and considers himself the president. How can we negotiate?” said Tsvangirai, who insists Mugabe must go so Zimbabwe can end its political turmoil and economic meltdown.

If Mugabe approached him afterwards, Tsvangirai said he had this message: “I made these offers, I made these overtures, I told you I would negotiate before the elections and not after—because it’s not about elections, it’s about transition.

“You disregarded that, you undertook violence against my supporters, you killed and maimed, you are still killing and maiming unarmed civilians, the army is still out there.

“How can you call yourself an elected president? You are illegitimate and I will not speak to an illegitimate president.”

Zimbabwe’s Electoral Commission said on Wednesday that Friday’s poll would go ahead.

‘Prime target’
Tsvangirai said it was too early to say when he would leave the Dutch embassy.

“I am the prime target. I am not going to take chances with my safety.
It’s not just about Mr Mugabe, it’s about the people out there who could take the law into their own hands. There is no rule of law here,” said Tsvangirai.

His Movement for Democratic Change says nearly 90 of its supporters have been killed by militias loyal to Mugabe.

On Wednesday, the SADC’s security troika urged the postponement of Friday’s election, saying the re-election of Mugabe could lack legitimacy in the current violent climate.

Regional power South Africa added to the pressure, saying a top negotiator was in Harare mediating talks on options including postponement of the vote.

The troika, comprising African Union chairperson Tanzania, Swaziland and Angola, called at its meeting near the Swazi capital, Mbabane, for talks between Mugabe’s government and the opposition before a new run-off date was set.

It said the group had been briefed by South African President Thabo Mbeki, the designated SADC mediator on Zimbabwe.

Mbeki has been widely criticised in the past for taking a soft line with Mugabe and for not using South Africa’s powerful economic leverage with landlocked Zimbabwe. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga called on Wednesday for a new mediator.

The elderly Mandela, revered by many across the world for his role in ending apartheid in South Africa, rarely speaks on political issues these days but used a speech at a dinner in London to condemn a “tragic failure of leadership” in Zimbabwe.

United States President George Bush said after meeting United Nations Security Council members at the White House that Friday’s poll had no credibility.

Mugabe has presided over a slide into economic chaos, including 80% unemployment and inflation estimated by experts at about two million percent. He blames sanctions by former colonial power Britain and other Western countries.

Millions of Zimbabweans have fled to neighbouring countries to escape the economic woes of their once prosperous homeland.—Reuters

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