South African president in Zimbabwe for fresh talks

May 9th, 2008 - 7:43 pm ICT by admin  

Johannesburg, May 9 (DPA) South African President Thabo Mbeki returned to Zimbabwe Friday for talks with President Robert Mugabe on the country’s post-election impasse as foreign ambassadors visited the victims of attacks carried out by Mugabe-loyal youth militia. Mbeki is under pressure to take a tougher stance with the 84-year-old leader than on his last visit to Zimbabwe in April, when the South African leader declared he saw no evidence of a “crisis” in Zimbabwe.

That assessment, coming amid mounting attacks by Mugabe supporters against suspected opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters which the MDC says has killed 30 of its members, drew sharp criticism within South Africa and abroad.

The MDC, whose leader Morgan Tsvangirai took more votes than Mugabe in the March 29 election, but not enough, the official election body says, for an outright win, has called several times for Mbeki to withdraw as mediator.

As international outrage mounts over the campaign of violence in mainly rural areas Mbeki has been forced to scale up his intervention. A senior South African delegation led by a government minister travelled to Zimbabwe earlier this week to meet with all sides to the dispute.

Meanwhile, ambassadors to Harare from the US, the European Union, Germany, Sweden, and Angola visited some of the victims of the violence at Avenues Clinic in Harare Friday morning.

One elderly lady said she was attacked by youths with knives and axes, who burnt her house in Mutoko, 200 km east of Harare. The woman sustained severe injuries to her back and buttocks.

“I asked him (one attacker) to finish me off but then he ran away,” she told the diplomats.

Another of the patients, an MDC polling agent, had suffered two broken hands and a broken leg.

“How can an 84-year-old be assaulted simply because her children are MDC,” US ambassador James McGee asked. “They (Zanu-PF) can’t deny it. This is absolute brutality.”

Mbeki’s talks with Mugabe were expected to centre on conditions for a presidential runoff, as called for when no candidate takes more than 50 percent. Tsvangirai took 47.9 percent to Mugabe’s 43.2 percent.

The MDC has yet to signal whether it would contest a runoff, while hinting it would if the violence abated and international observers were in place to ensure the vote was free and fair.

Mugabe’s government barred election observers from most Western countries from the March elections.

The state-controlled Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has yet to give a date for the runoff, while telling an African election observer mission it would certainly be “within the next 12 months”.

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