Mugabe defiant of pressure to stall vote

ZIMBABWEAN President Robert Mugabe yesterday 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.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and South African ruling ANC leader 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 UN Security Council issued an unprecedented and unanimous condemnation of violence against Tsvangirai’s supporters yesterday. It was supported by South Africa, China and Russia who have previously blocked such moves.

It condemned the “killing of scores of opposition activists and other Zimbabweans and the beating and displacement of thousands of people, including many women and children”.

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.

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 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.”

Zuma, who rivals President Thabo Mbeki as South Africa’s most powerful man, called for urgent intervention by the UN and SADC (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.”

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

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

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

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

The MDC formally confirmed the decision to pull out in a letter delivered to the electoral commission yesterday, a party spokesman said.


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