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Newly re-elected Mugabe calls for talks with opposition

Latest update : 2008-06-30

President Robert Mugabe said he was open to talks with Zimbabwe's opposition during his swearing-in ceremony. Opposition leader Tsvangirai reacted coolly saying Mugabe's intentions were difficult to trust.

Robert Mugabe was sworn in Sunday to a new term as Zimbabwe president and called for dialogue between the country's political parties after a one-man election widely denounced as illegitimate.
   
After the 84-year-old took the oath of office administered by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku at a ceremony at his State House residence, the veteran leader issued an appeal for "unity."
   
"Indeed it is my hope that sooner rather than later, we shall as diverse political parties hold consultations towards such serious dialogue as will minimise our difference and enhance the area of unity and cooperation," Mugabe said in a speech.
   
The rapidly-convened ceremony was staged barely an hour after the electoral commission declared he won a total of 2,150,269 votes against 233,000 for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who boycotted the election but whose name still appeared on ballot papers.
   
Turnout was announced at 42.37 percent, and 131,481 ballot papers were rejected, giving Mugabe more than 85 percent of the votes cast.
   
The victory declaration was derided as a "joke" by Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change which pulled out of the run-off last weekend after a wave of deadly attacks against its supporters.
   
"This is an unbelievable joke and act of desperation on the part of the regime," the MDC's chief spokesman Nelson Chamisa told AFP.
   
No African heads of state were present for the inauguration, in stark contrast to his previous election victories.
   
Mugabe is Africa's oldest head of state and has ruled the former British colony uninterrupted since independence in 1980.
   
He was expected to fly out of Harare soon after the ceremony, headed for an African Union summit in Egypt where his country's crisis was to feature high on the agenda.
   
Mugabe was assured of a landslide victory after Tsvangirai pulled out of Friday's presidential run-off, saying rising violence against his supporters had left nearly 90 dead and thousands injured.
   
Tsvangirai won the first round of the election on March 29 with 47.9 percent of the vote against 43.2 percent for Mugabe -- just short of an outright majority.
   
Defying international and regional calls for him to postpone the election, Mugabe pushed ahead with the vote anyway, warning against outside interference in his country's affairs and shrugging off Tsvangirai's claims of violence.
   
In final pre-poll rallies, Mugabe said thousands had been killed in other African countries ahead of elections but polls were held regardless. He also indicated he was open to talks with the opposition -- but only after Friday's vote.
   
Tsvangirai remained on the ballot despite announcing he was pulling out a week ago, with electoral commission officials saying it was too late to withdraw.
   
But the opposition leader did not urge supporters to cast ballots for him and even told followers to vote for Mugabe if they felt it was necessary to protect themselves.
   
There were widespread claims of voter intimidation, including residents being forced to polling stations.
   
Many Western governments denounced the vote as a sham, and a growing number of African leaders have criticised Mugabe for insisting on holding a one-candidate election.
   
Although Western observers were barred from covering the election, a number of African monitors were allowed in.
   
The head of the Pan-African parliament mission told a news conference Sunday that the vote was neither free nor fair and fresh polls should be held.
   
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, among the veteran leader's most vocal critics on the continent, called on the African Union to send troops into Zimbabwe and labelled Mugabe "a shame to Africa".
   
South African President Thabo Mbeki, the regionally appointed mediator for Zimbabwe, has worked to seek a negotiated solution in the country but has faced harsh criticism over what many see as his failure to confront Mugabe.
   
Mugabe lavished praise on Mbeki at his swearing-in, hailing him as a statesman for his mediation efforts in Zimbabwe.
   
"Zimbabwe is indebted to his untiring efforts to promote harmony and peace in Zimbabwe," he said.
   
Tsvangirai has previously called for Mbeki to be stripped of his role as mediator.
   
The opposition leader has sent mixed signals over his willingness to negotiate with Mugabe, at times saying he could not hold talks with an illegitimate leader.
   
In weekend newspaper interviews, however, he suggested the possibility of Mugabe remaining as a ceremonial head of state if an agreement on rewriting the constitution could be reached.
 

Date created : 2008-06-30

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