Zimbabwe opposition calls for UN intervention

Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai urged the United Nations to step in to put an end to the country's post-election crisis, accusing the military of terrorising the population. Philippe Bolopion reports.


Zimbabwe's opposition leader pushed the UN on Monday to intervene to end his country's election crisis as President Robert Mugabe's ruling party flatly denied it was behind a rise in post-poll violence.

As 28 people appeared in court in Harare in connection with unrest during a general strike last week, the opposition accused the authorities of double standards by not pursuing Mugabe supporters with the same vigour.

Meanwhile the row over a partial recount of the March 29 poll, which could see the ruling ZANU-PF regain its majority in parliament, rumbled on as former colonial power Britain denounced it as an attempt to steal the election.

Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who has already proclaimed himself the clear victor over Mugabe, made his demand for United Nations intervention directly to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as they met in Ghana.

Tsvangirai had requested the 30-minute meeting in Accra just before Ban departed for Liberia on the next leg of his current African tour, UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

"The opposition leader complained about the deadlock and the deterioration of the humanitarian and political situation in the country," she told journalists.

"He appealed for an intervention by the African Union and the United Nations since he feels there is no progress in efforts made" by the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), she added.

Tsvangirai last week called for South African President Thabo Mbeki to be stripped from his role as SADC mediator, frustrated at what he sees as an overly soft approach by the bloc towards veteran leader Mugabe.

However SADC leaders meeting over the weekend in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius gave their backing for Mbeki to continue in his role.

"We have complete faith in President Mbeki," said Mauritius Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam.

The MDC says the muted response of SADC and Mbeki, a long-time advocate of so-called "quiet diplomacy," has emboldened Mugabe and his followers to clamp down on the opposition.

At a press conference on Sunday, the party's secretary general Tendai Biti charged that 10 MDC supporters had been killed and thousands forced to flee their homes following attacks by pro-Mugabe vigilantes.

However ZANU-PF's chief spokesman, justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, said claims of politically-related killings were nonsense.

"As you know people die of natural causes. What we refute is that anyone has died of politically-motivated violence at the hands of ZANU-PF," Chinamasa told reporters.

While no one from ZANU-PF has been brought before the courts, 28 mainly MDC activists appeared before magistrates in Harare to face public order offences in connection with last Tuesday's general strike.

Their lawyers told the court that some of the defendants, who included women as well as men, had been beaten by soldiers and police in order to extract confessions.

The defendants all pleaded not guilty and were to apply for bail on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, criticism mounted of an ongoing vote recount of both the parliamentary and presidential elections in 23 of Zimbabwe's 210 constituencies seen by the opposition as a bid to reverse their legislative victory.

Speaking to parliament in London, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband questioned the security of the ballot boxes and said: "No-one can have any faith in this recount."

Dianne Kohler-Barnard, a South African parliamentarian observing the recount as part of a regional monitoring mission, also dismissed the process as "fatally flawed" after returning from Zimbabwe.

A spokesman for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), Utoile Silaigwana, said the recount, which began on Saturday, would take longer than the three days originally predicted but refused to give a precise day for its completion.

"We had expected the exercise to be completed within a minimum of three days, but with the developments on ground, where candidates are raising lots of issues ... it is now difficult to put a time," Silaigwana said.

Mugabe, a former guerrilla leader and hero of the national liberation movement, has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980. At 84, he now is Africa's oldest leader.

Once a model for the southern African region, Zimbabwe today is afflicted by an inflation rate running at over 165,000 percent and unemployment of more than 80 percent, while even basic foodstuffs are in short supply.

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