/ 4 July 2008

Thousands hail Mugabe’s return

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe arrived home to a hero’s welcome from thousands of supporters on Friday after avoiding serious censure at an African Union summit over his widely condemned one-man election.

About 4 000 supporters gathered at Harare’s airport to welcome the 84-year-old leader, who returned after AU leaders shunned calls for his suspension or the imposition of sanctions over Zimbabwe’s political crisis, and instead passed a resolution calling for the formation of a national unity government.

The crowd on the airport tarmac sang, danced, played campaign music and waved Zimbabwe flags as Mugabe flew in from Cairo.

“We realise that our country almost went to the colonialists through the Movement for Democratic Change [MDC], but we have managed to take it back,” said a Mugabe supporter who gave his name as Comrade Chitenje.

“That’s why so many have come out today [Friday]. It’s an historic moment.”

Olivia Muchena, a spokesperson for Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, said: “We are reaffirming the landslide victory. We are welcoming our hero back with love and honour.”

The AU summit held in Egypt earlier this week came on the heels of Zimbabwe’s one-man election last Friday that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai boycotted, citing rising violence against his supporters he blamed on Mugabe thugs and which left about 90 dead and thousands injured.

Mugabe’s government hailed the AU resolution and said it is open to dialogue with the opposition, while Tsvangirai has rejected the calls for a national unity government, saying it does not recognise the will of the people.

The opposition leader has said the resolution merely accommodates Mugabe after much of the world dismissed his re-election as a farce, and that the MDC’s victory in the first round of the election should be the basis for any talks.

Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the March 29 first round, but with an official vote total just short of an outright majority.

Western calls for sanctions have intensified following the election and Mugabe’s swearing in for a sixth term on Sunday, though South African President Thabo Mbeki, chief mediator for the crisis, has warned against imposing a solution from the outside.

On Thursday, the United States pushed for a United Nations travel ban and an assets freeze on Mugabe and 13 of his cronies in protest at the presidential run-off vote.

US ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad formally introduced a sanctions resolution, also including an arms embargo on the Harare regime, in the Security Council, and said he hoped it would be voted upon by the 15-member body next week.

The US draft would also direct UN chief Ban Ki-moon to appoint a special representative “who would support the negotiation process between the political parties in Zimbabwe”.

Diplomatic sources said former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who helped broker a power-sharing agreement in Kenya last February, former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, Nigerian ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo and Ghanaian President John Kufuor were being considered for the mission.

While some African leaders, including Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, have openly condemned Mugabe, criticism from the continent has remained limited.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, a harsh critic of Mugabe, was not able to participate in the AU debates after suffering a stroke. He remained hospitalised on Friday.

Uncompromising message
Meanwhile, an uncompromising message was given on Friday to the rest of the world by South African Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad: “Let Africa solve Africa’s problems.”

He told a media briefing in Pretoria that AU summit had decided on a way forward for finding a solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe, and any outside interference would not be helpful.

He was particularly referring to the resolution under chapter VII of the UN charter, which is being proposed in the Security Council by the US, the current council chair.

“We want to see how the resolution of the AU summit is operationalised,” Pahad said, “before we jump to a chapter VII resolution.”

Pahad said that he hoped reference to the summit resolution could be included in the draft Security Council resolution now being circulated.

“We call on the international community not to do anything that will jeopardise what the African continent as a whole has decided, “he said.

He said that the resolution was passed by all 53 countries of the continent, and that they represented the largest continental block of countries in the UN.

“All other parties must respect the will of the African summit,” he said, “and do nothing to impede the approach to find a solution to the Zimbabwean problem.” — AFP, I-Net Bridge