Tsvangirai briefly leaves Dutch Embassy

June 25, 2008 7:55:21 AM PDT
Zimbabwe's opposition leader briefly emerged from his refuge at the Dutch Embassy Wednesday and called for African leaders to guide talks to end Zimbabwe's crisis, saying a presidential runoff this week was no solution. Morgan Tsvangirai said the goal of the talks would be forming a coalition transitional authority for his country. He said talks could not begin until there was an end to attacks on his supporters blamed on President Robert Mugabe's government and a release of "political prisoners," including top opposition figure Tendai Biti, jailed on treason charges.

"What is important is that both parties must realize the country is burning and the only way is to sit down and find a way out of it," Tsvangirai told reporters at his Harare home after leaving the embassy.

Zimbabwean Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga reacted with derision.

"Is he out of his mind?" Matonga said.

Matonga said the government and Mugabe's ZANU-PF were focused on the election. Tsvangirai will be on the ballot because his withdrawal came too late to be valid, electoral officials said.

"There will definitely be elections on Friday," Matonga said.

Tsvangirai looked relaxed at the press conference, often smiling and joking, but returned to the Dutch Embassy soon after.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen spoke with Tsvangirai and "underlined he is welcome to stay as long as he wants," Netherlands' Foreign Ministry spokesman Bart Rijs said. He declined comment on Tsvangirai's future plans.

Tsvangirai first took refuge in the embassy Sunday after withdrawing from the country's presidential elections, saying he feared for his safety.

A commentary by Tsvangirai in the British newspaper The Guardian called for U.N. peacekeepers to help prepare the way for new elections. Asked about that in Harare, Tsvangirai said: "What do you do when you don't have guns and the people are being brutalized out there?"

He stressed he was not calling for military intervention.

Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change opposition party, had fled to the Dutch Embassy Sunday following the announcement of his withdrawal from the runoff. He sought refuge after getting a tip soldiers were headed to his home.

Mugabe, by all indications intent on extending his nearly three-decade rule, insists Friday's vote will go ahead. Mugabe has grown only more defiant in the face of growing international pressure.

"The election is not a solution," Tsvangirai said. "What is a solution is some sort of transitional process to address the critical issues facing the country.

"We are making proposals Mugabe has to accept."

While Tsvangirai did not spell out how the transitional body would work, he has insisted in the past he lead and Mugabe have no role in any coalition. Mugabe is refusing to yield power. Tsvangirai's claim to leadership is based on his having come first in a field of four in the first round of presidential voting March 29, though he did not win the 50 percent plus one vote necessary to avoid a runoff.

Tsvangirai's party and its allies also won control of Parliament in the March voting - the first time since independence from Britain in 1980 that Mugabe's ZANU-PF party failed to win a parliamentary majority.

Tsvangirai said he was asking the African Union, whose heads of state were to hold a regular summit in Egypt next week, to step in to take over mediation that so far has been in the hands of South African President Thabo Mbeki and a southern African regional group. Tsvangirai had previously called on Mbeki to step aside, accusing him of bias in Mugabe's favor and saying his "quiet diplomacy" was not working.

Tsvangirai said the AU mediation he was proposing cannot "be a continuation of talks and talks about talks that have been largely fruitless for several years. The time for actions is now. The people and the country can wait no longer. We need to show leadership."

In The Guardian, Tsvangirai acknowledged calling for international intervention was sensitive, but said it would offer "the best chance the people of Zimbabwe would get to see their views recorded fairly and justly."

"We do not want armed conflict, but the people of Zimbabwe need the words of indignation from global leaders to be backed by the moral rectitude of military force," he said in The Guardian. "Such a force would be in the role of peacekeepers, not troublemakers. They would separate the people from their oppressors and cast the protective shield around the democratic process for which Zimbabwe yearns."

Officials from Tsvangirai's party said police raided one of their provincial offices. Scores of opposition activists, including high-ranking party members, have been attacked or killed. The MDC's No. 2 official has been jailed since earlier this month on treason charges - which can carry the death penalty.

Regional heads of state, meanwhile, were meeting in Swaziland in hopes of finding a solution for Zimbabwe.

The Southern African Development Community meeting, though, did not include South African President Mbeki, who was appointed by the bloc more than a year ago to mediate between Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

Mbeki has refused to publicly denounce Mugabe even as other African leaders step up their criticism, saying confrontation could backfire.

Tsvangirai wrote in The Guardian that Mbeki's approach "sought to massage a defeated dictator rather than show him the door and prod him towards it."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged to push for new European Union sanctions against Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe - and promised to help the southern African country if democracy returns.

Brown told lawmakers that he hopes talks between the United Nations and African Union can end the country's political crisis, which deepened when Zimbabwe's opposition withdrew from Friday's presidential runoff amid widespread violence and intimidation.

He said Britain is ready to tighten measures against the government in Harare and will ban Zimbabwe's cricket team from touring Britain next year. Britain's Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said Britain will ban the team because of the close links it has with Mugabe.

"We do know the names of the individuals who are surrounding Mugabe at the moment, we know the names of the criminal cabal that is trying to keep him in power, and we will name those individuals and these will be part of the next stage of the sanctions," Brown said.


Load Comments