on July 1, 2008 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Leaders to consider Zimbabwe crisis at AU summit

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) – African leaders on Monday pushed President Robert Mugabe to open talks with the Zimbabwean opposition after he was re-elected unopposed in an election condemned as violent and unfair by the continent’s monitors.

Mugabe, 84, attended an African Union summit in Egypt soon after being sworn in for a new term, extending his unbroken rule since independence from Britain in 1980.

As Mugabe arrived, the African Union’s monitors said Friday’s election did not meet their standards, the third African observer group to condemn the poll.

The summit appeared opposed to a push by Western countries at the United Nations for sanctions to punish Mugabe but was moving towards a consensus on negotiations to end the crisis in the ruined country.

South Africa called for Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC to enter talks on a transitional government. Tsvangirai withdrew from the ballot because of attacks on his supporters.

Pretoria is the designated southern African mediator for Zimbabwe, although President Thabo Mbeki has been widely accused of being ineffective and too soft on Mugabe.

The statement was the first time South Africa has publicly called for a unity government and appeared to indicate the line the African Union will take. Any stronger measures are likely to be blocked by divisions at the summit.

The United States has drafted a U.N. resolution calling for the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and freeze the assets of Mugabe’s inner circle.

“We will press for strong action by the United Nations, but we could also act unilaterally,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

But South Africa, China and Russia appear sure to block it as they have opposed other strong measures against Mugabe.

Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis has ruined a once prosperous country, saddling it with the world’s worst hyper-inflation and straining neighboring nations, especially South Africa, with a flood of millions of economic refugees.

Conference sources said countries from east and west Africa wanted to take a strong stand but Mugabe’s neighbors in southern Africa were divided.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, Mugabe’s biggest critic in the southern region, was rushed to hospital in Egypt just before the summit after suffering a stroke.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, a Mugabe critic, called in Nairobi for his suspension from the AU until a fair election was held. But President Mwai Kibaki told Reuters at the summit negotiations for a unity government were the only solution.

Asked if Mugabe would accept a deal agreed by the summit, Congo Republic’s President Denis Sassou-Nguesso said: “We will persuade him to accept the solution that we will propose. This is certain. We are invested in this.”

UNPRECEDENTED CRITICISM

Many African leaders have previously appeared over-awed by Mugabe, long seen as a liberation hero. But the conduct of the election provoked unprecedented criticism from within Africa.

Tsvangirai pulled out because of violence in which he said nearly 90 of his followers were killed.

Monitors from both Zimbabwe’s neighbors in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Pan-African parliament said the vote was undermined by violence and did not reflect the will of the people.

Some summit leaders favor a power-sharing deal modeled on one that ended a bloody post-election crisis in Kenya this year.

Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai say they are ready for African-sponsored talks although the issue of who would lead a unity government remains a possibly insuperable obstacle.

Tsvangirai called on the summit leaders not to recognize Mugabe’s re-election, after electoral officials said he won more than 85 percent of the vote. “We want them to say the 27 (June) election is illegitimate,” he told Dutch public television.

Tsvangirai won the first round of elections on March 29 but fell short of the majority needed for outright victory. He said that result should be the basis for negotiating a transition.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer also backed talks based on first round results.

She told reporters at the summit that because of the way Mugabe used security forces against the population, he “has no basis for moral leadership of that society any more.”

South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said Zimbabwe was deeply divided and polarized after the election.

“ZANU-PF and the MDC must enter into negotiations which will lead to the formation of a transitional government that can extricate Zimbabwe from its current political challenges,” a foreign ministry statement said.

Analysts believe Mugabe ignored international condemnation and went ahead with the vote so he could negotiate with Tsvangirai from a position of strength.

Britain’s Africa Minister Mark Malloch-Brown said the AU’s credibility was at stake. “What it does need to do is find a solution consistent with international justice and a global sense of what is decent,” he said.

Italy on Monday recalled its ambassador in Zimbabwe for consultations.

(For further stories on Zimbabwe please click)