No talks planned after Mugabe election sham

July 1, 2008 8:00:11 AM PDT
Zimbabwe's opposition took a hard line Tuesday on possible negotiations with President Robert Mugabe's government, saying Mugabe had closed the door by going ahead with a sham election. Humanitarian agencies in Zimbabwe, meanwhile, said they were pressing the government to let them resume distributing food and other aid to millions of Zimbabweans struggling amid their nation's economic collapse.

In a statement Tuesday from Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, Tendai Biti, a top leader of the Zimbabwean opposition's Movement for Democratic Change, dismissed speculation that his party and Mugabe's ZANU-PF were about to embark on talks to govern together.

"Nothing can be as malicious and as further from the truth," said Biti, who is out on bail on Zimbabwe treason charges that carry the death penalty. "There are no talks or discussions taking place between the two parties and most importantly, there is no agreement in the offing."

Biti said while the opposition had been open to bringing moderate ZANU-PF members into a government it hoped to lead, Mugabe had closed the door on that possibility by going ahead with a presidential runoff widely condemned as a sham.

Mugabe on Sunday was declared winner of Friday's one-candidate presidential runoff and immediately held an inauguration ceremony.

He then flew to an African Union summit in Egypt.

Mugabe's spokesman on Tuesday said the man who has led Zimbabwe for 28 years will not step down and said Western critics who called the country's recent election a sham can "go hang."

A Biti aide, Nqobizitha Mlilo, could not comment on what the party would do if the path of negotiation was abandoned, but said the party was insisting that Mugabe step down.

"They lost the election," he said, referring to the opposition's majority in Parliament after the last election. "They must go."

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won more votes than the other three candidates in the first round of presidential voting in Zimbabwe in March, but not the simple majority needed to avoid a runoff against the second-place finisher, Mugabe.

Mugabe is accused of unleashing violence against the opposition after the first round to ensure victory in the second. The attacks reached such a scale that Tsvangirai withdrew from the June 27 runoff and fled to the Dutch Embassy in Harare.

Mlilo said there were fears in Zimbabwe that opposition supporters and rights activists would now be subjected to a new crackdown because turnout for the presidential runoff was low.

"The only way they can continue to govern is through violence," he said.

Human Rights Watch says Mugabe supporters beat people who couldn't prove they voted, and four white farmers were reported hospitalized after brutal beatings by Mugabe loyalists on Sunday, the day Mugabe was inaugurated. White farmers have often been targeted by Mugabe militants.

Meanwhile, aid groups ordered to suspend work in Zimbabwe indefinitely in early June say they are still waiting for permission to start again. The government had accused independent aid groups of supporting the opposition, charges the groups denied.

"Obviously the NGO's are increasingly asking the government when might they make a decision on" lifting the suspension, said Kenneth Walker, a spokesman for Care International. "But we've gotten no response."

Oxfam, which supplies food, water and sanitation help to half a million Zimbabweans, was "really very anxious to resume work," said spokeswoman Caroline Hooper-Box.

"Zimbabweans urgently need food and support," she said.