Wed, Jun 25, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Tsvangirai seeks pledges of safety

‘ILLEGITIMATE’ China urged restraint in Zimbabwe but declined to join in world criticism of Robert Mugabe, a Beijing ally, concerning the country’s political violence

AFP , HARARE

Zimbabwe’s opposition leader yesterday sought assurances for his safety from his shelter in the Dutch embassy as President Robert Mugabe’s regime seemed set to defy the world and hold a run-off vote.

Morgan Tsvangirai, who took refuge in the mission on Sunday night after announcing he would not challenge Mugabe in the run-off, said by phone he would leave when he was “satisfied that it’s safe to do so.”

“I am not being chased away and my hosts have said I can stay for as long as I don’t feel it’s safe to leave ... probably within the next two days,” he said.

Tsvangirai cited pre-poll violence against his supporters as the reason for withdrawing from Friday’s election, in which he had vowed to end Mugabe’s 28-year rule.

Mugabe has not directly responded to Tsvangirai’s pull out, but his government has said preparations for the vote will move ahead, setting up a possible victory by default for the veteran leader in power since independence.

In state media on Tuesday, Mugabe accused former colonial ruler Britain and its allies of lying to the world to justify intervention.

“Britain and her allies are telling a lot of lies about Zimbabwe, saying a lot of people are dying,” the state-run Herald newspaper quoted him as saying.

The UN Security Council has urged that the run-off vote be postponed and condemned the violence the opposition says has killed dozens of its supporters and made a fair election impossible.

Britain, the US and France all branded Mugabe’s regime as “illegitimate,” and UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned that holding the election “would only deepen the divisions within the country and produce results that cannot be credible.”

Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the UN, Boniface Chidyausiku, said Ban’s comments were “out of order.”

“For him [Ban] to grandstand in New York and suggest that we should postpone the election is out of order as far as we are concerned,” he said on South African radio.

Mugabe, 84, is accused by critics of leading the once model economy to ruin and trampling on human rights.

The country has the world’s highest inflation rate and is experiencing major food shortages.

He has pledged the opposition will never come to power in his lifetime and vowed to fight to keep it from occurring.

Tsvangirai meanwhile told AFP the UN did not have the “jurisdiction” to postpone the vote.

“They can only recommend,” he said, stressing that holding an election in the current conditions was impossible.

Regional criticism intensified yesterday, with the ruling party in neighboring South Africa, the continental powerhouse, slamming Mugabe’s government.

The African National Congress said it was “deeply dismayed by the actions of the government of Zimbabwe which is riding roughshod over the hard-won democratic rights of the people of that country.

“As democrats, the ANC cannot be indifferent to the flagrant violation of every principle of democratic governance.”

China on the other hand urged restraint in Zimbabwe but declined to join in world criticism of Mugabe — a Beijing ally — over the political violence.

A spokesman for Zimbabwe’s electoral commission said Tuesday the body still had not received a letter from Tsvangirai confirming his withdrawal from the run-off and was moving ahead with plans for the vote.

“The preparations are at an advanced stage,” Zimbabwe Electoral Commission spokesman Uitoile Silaigwana said.

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