African leaders meet on Zimbabwe

Southern African leaders held an emergency summit Saturday to find a resolution to Zimbabwe's deepening political crisis.

African leaders meet on Zimbabwe

Southern African leaders held an emergency summit Saturday to find a resolution to Zimbabwe's deepening political crisis, but Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe refused to attend, underlining his growing isolation in the region and the world.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa called the meeting of Zimbabwe's neighbors two weeks after the March 29 presidential election. No results from those polls have been released.

Independent tallies suggest Mugabe lost, but garnered enough votes to force a runoff. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says he won outright and has traveled the region asking neighboring leaders to push for Mugabe to resign.

Mwanawasa said Saturday the delay in announcing the results "has given rise to a climate of tension in the country that has further been aggravated by the inability of the High Court of Justice to settle the matter speedily."

"This summit therefore should focus on helping Zimbabwe to find an answer that generally reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people," he said.

Mugabe, who had earlier been expected to attend the summit, instead sent three ministers from his outgoing Cabinet, a major snub to his regional counterparts.

Mwanawasa insisted the meeting was not intended to put Mugabe on trial, and said the Zimbabwean president could not attend because of "circumstances beyond his control."

Before the meeting, South African President Thabo Mbeki, the chief mediator on Zimbabwe, met with Mugabe for 90 minutes in Harare and declared "there is no crisis in Zimbabwe."

Mbeki urged patience, saying "everybody is waiting for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to announce the results."

Since the vote, Zimbabwe's ruler of 28 years has dug in his heels, banning political rallies amid opposition allegations he was orchestrating a wave of violence to intimidate opponents.

Tendai Biti, secretary-general of Tsvangirai's party, said the military had taken control of Zimbabwe and urged action by southern African leaders who have failed to criticize Mugabe in the past.

The leaders "must speak strongly and decisively against the dictatorship and against the status quo in respect of which our people are suffering, our people are being brutalized, our people are being traumatized," he told AP Television News in Lusaka.

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE ON MUGABE HAS GROWN

International pressure on Mugabe has grown since the vote.

"We can't wait any longer for the announcement of these results," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Saturday in London.

Mugabe has dismissed Brown's criticism, calling the British leader a "little tiny dot" on the world stage.

Mwanawasa called the emergency summit after Western powers and regional human rights and church groups demanded the election results be released. Tsvangirai, Mugabe's rival, will address the meeting, a move that might have prompted Mugabe's withdrawal.

It was a rare move by Mugabe, who has regularly appeared at regional and international meetings despite international condemnation of his administration.

Despite his absence, Mugabe's credentials as a liberation leader in the war that ended white minority rule in his country could continue to protect him from criticism from fellow leaders.

At the last Southern African Development Community emergency summit seven months ago, leaders gave Mugabe a standing ovation, just months after a crackdown in which police beat Tsvangirai so badly he had to be hospitalized.

Pressure has grown on the leaders to take action this time and push Zimbabwe to release the results.

"The very integrity and utility of the SADC is at stake," said New York-based Freedom House, which charts democracy's progress around the world. "The SADC's record of living up to its own stated democratic principles is unimpressive and this is an opportunity to change that."

"It's about time that southern African leaders do something to avert the growing threat of a human rights disaster in Zimbabwe," Human Rights Watch said in a statement from New York.

On Friday, Zimbabwean police banned all political rallies, a move appeared designed to foil opposition plans to take to the streets of Harare to ratchet up the pressure on the regime.

In an interview from Botswana on Friday, Tsvangirai implied he feared returning home, saying he was a "prime target" for security forces.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change has held no major protests since the vote, but party officials had planned a rally Sunday, a day before an expected High Court ruling on their petition to force the release of the results.

Party leaders would decide Sunday whether to defy the ban and call for a general strike, MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said.

Agencies
Last Mod: 12 Nisan 2008, 18:49
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