South Africa begins to press Zimbabwe

April 18, 2008|By Los Angeles Times

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- As the toll of Zimbabwe opposition supporters injured in post-election violence rose to more than 200 yesterday, neighboring South Africa hardened its position on the crisis, calling for the speedy release of election results.

South African government spokesman Themba Maseko described the situation in Zimbabwe as "dire."

"When elections are held and results are not released two weeks after, it is obviously of great concern," Maseko said, referring to the March 29 presidential election in Zimbabwe.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said yesterday that the regime of President Robert G. Mugabe had unleashed an orgy of violence on opposition supporters and activists after losing control of Parliament in the election.

"As I speak, our people are being murdered, homes burned, children molested, women raped," Tsvangirai said.

Although official results have not been released, senior figures within the ruling ZANU-PF party have conceded that Mugabe won fewer votes in the presidential contest than Tsvangirai.

The opposition insists that Tsvangirai won the 50 percent plus one required to win without a runoff; however, independent projections suggest that he fell short of that mark.

With the arrest of 11 electoral officials in recent days, the ruling party cited "irregularities" in the counting and demanded that 23 seats be recounted, enough for it to reverse its loss of control of Parliament.

The party won 97 seats and needs 106 to control the 210-seat House of Assembly. The recount is due this weekend, with results expected to be announced afterward.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, appointed mediator between the Zimbabwe government and the opposition, and other regional leaders had been muted in their response to Zimbabwe's disputed election.

Last weekend, after he met with Mugabe, Mbeki was widely reported as saying that there was not a crisis in Zimbabwe, sparking criticism in South Africa's ruling African National Congress party.

On Wednesday, he denied having said so.

The regional body, the Southern African Development Community, issued a statement Sunday, calling for the election results to be verified swiftly but avoiding criticism of Mugabe or his government.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change said yesterday that at least two opposition activists were killed. The number admitted to hospitals with injuries rose to more than 200, with many suffering serious fractures and cuts. Many of the victims reported being beaten with logs.

Tsvangirai hinted that members of Mugabe's regime might face trial for crimes in the future.

"I think the current wave of violence against the people must stop, and the only way to stop [it] is that those who are committing those crimes must know that they must be answerable one day," said Tsvangirai.

He visited Johannesburg yesterday, giving a news conference and several media interviews.

The intimidation is also directed at white farmers perceived by Zimbabwe's ruling party to be allied with the opposition. About 130 white farmers have been threatened by gangs of war veterans ordering them to vacate their properties, according to the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, and 28 have been evicted since the election.

U.S. officials also expressed concern about violent retribution in Zimbabwe following the election.

"We have disturbing and confirmed reports of threats, beatings, abductions, burning of homes and even murder, from many parts of the country," U.S. Ambassador James McGee said in a message to Zimbabweans on the eve of Independence Day celebrations.

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters yesterday that Mugabe's recent rule has been an "abomination" and urged Zimbabwe to release election results.

"It's time for Africa to step up" and denounce the government campaign of arrests and intimidation that followed the vote, she said. "Where is the concern from the African Union and from Zimbabwe's neighbors about what is going on in Zimbabwe?"

But Mugabe regards the U.S. as the enemy and is unlikely to be influenced by such denunciations.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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