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South Africa mulls Grace Mugabe's fate after assault claim

© ALEXANDER JOE / AFP | Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe raises her fist as she speaks during a rally in Harare on July 28, 2013.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-08-19

Zimbabwe blocked flights by South Africa's government-owned airline on Saturday as tensions rose over allegations that Zimbabwe's first lady assaulted a young model at a luxury hotel in Johannesburg.

South Africa's government said it had not yet decided to grant the Zimbabwe government's request for diplomatic immunity for Grace Mugabe, who has not commented on the allegations.

Local media reported that Mugabe was expected to attend a regional summit with 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe in South Africa's capital, Pretoria, in what would be her first public appearance since the alleged assault Sunday night. But there was no sign of her as of midday.

Twenty-year-old model Gabriella Engels has claimed that Grace Mugabe whipped her with an extension cord, cutting her forehead. Lawyers for Engels have threatened to go to court if immunity is granted.

Foreign ministry spokesman Nelson Kgwete said in a text message to The Associated Press on Saturday that South Africa was still considering the request. "Decision yet to be made," Kgwete said.

Zimbabwe blocks SAA flights

South African police have issued a "red alert" at borders to ensure Grace Mugabe doesn't leave undetected. Police also say their investigation is complete but needs a government decision on the immunity appeal.

South African Airways said Zimbabwe had placed restrictions on its operations, affecting its flights between the neighboring countries.

In a statement, the South African government-owned airline said its flight from Zimbabwe's capital to Johannesburg was unable to take off as scheduled Saturday morning. Another flight from Johannesburg to Harare has been canceled.

South African Airways said Zimbabwean authorities were demanding a "foreign operators permit" to allow the airline to operate in Zimbabwe. It said it has been flying to and from Zimbabwe for more than 20 years and that the permit was never required until Saturday morning.

The statement by the airline does not mention the allegations against Zimbabwe's first lady.

Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe chief executive David Chawota did not specify the "issues" requiring attention. "The South Africans know what should be done in terms of processes," he said.

The scandal over Grace Mugabe is a sensitive issue for South Africa as it weighs the possible diplomatic fallout from neighboring Zimbabwe if it acts against the first lady - and the likely outrage at home if it grants immunity and allows her to leave.

Some demonstrators protested Saturday in Pretoria against the 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe and his wife, saying she should be prosecuted.

It is not clear whether Grace Mugabe entered South Africa on a personal or diplomatic passport. Zimbabwe's state-owned newspaper reported last weekend that she was in South Africa for medical care, but she told police after the alleged assault that she was scheduled to attend the summit with her husband.

(AP)

Date created : 2017-08-19

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