Tsvangirai urges Zimbabwe transition government talks (Roundup)

June 26th, 2008 - 12:20 am ICT by IANS  

Harare/Johannesburg, June 25 (DPA) Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai Wednesday called for the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to lead a UN-backed transitional government to help the country out of its crisis. Speaking at his home - having briefly left the Dutch embassy where he sought refuge since Sunday - the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader urged that “genuine and honest dialogue amongst Zimbabweans is the best way forward”, seen as an appeal for talks with President Robert Mugabe.

His remark followed an assertion from Mugabe Wednesday stating that he was “open to negotiations with anyone,” contrary to the hardline stance he has adopted up to now.

Tsvangirai said he was asking the AU and the SADC, the 14-nation regional bloc which was holding a summit on Zimbabwe, “to lead an expanded initiative, supported by the United Nations, to manage the transitional process”.

“We are proposing that the AU facilitation team, comprising eminent Africans, set up a transitional period which takes into account the will of the people of Zimbabwe.

“The AU team would lead in the constituting and character of the transitional period,” which, he said, “would allow the country to heal.”

He appealed for the initiative to be launched by a meeting of African heads of state in Egypt this weekend.

He said he had discussed the plan with the chairman of the African Union, Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete, and the SADC chairman, Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa, as well as other African leaders and foreign ministers.

The appeals follows the formal withdrawal from the presidential run-off poll this week of Tsvangirai, who is the leading contender in the ballot after winning the most votes in the first round March 29.

He said that discussions would not move forward without the release of MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti, in police custody on allegations of treason.

After his discussion with African leaders the opposition leader returned to the Dutch embassy, where he said he would stay as long as necessary.

The state-controlled daily Herald Wednesday quoted Mugabe as saying that he was “open to negotiations with anyone, but the logical process has to be followed to its logical conclusion.”

“We are open, open to discussion but we have our own principles,” it quoted him as saying at a rally north of Harare Tuesday. “However, those who seek to impose themselves on us and make idiotic noises would not bother us.”

On Wednesday, the SADC was also holding a crisis meeting in Swaziland on the situation in Zimbabwe which was being attended by the leaders of Tanzania, Angola and Swaziland.

The doors were “still open” for Mbeki to attend the crisis SADC summit, a spokesman for Swaziland’s government said.

The meeting, in Mbabane, was called by Swaziland’s King Mswati, who chairs the three states, Tanzania, Angola and Swaziland, making up SADC’s safety and security organ.

The legitimacy of Friday’s controversial election received another blow Wednesday when independent local observers announced they would not monitor the poll because of “blatant attempts” by Mugabe’s regime to prevent them from carrying out their duties.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network, which has earned international respect since monitoring all elections in Zimbabwe since 2000, said it was “greatly concerned” as the “blatant and deliberate attempts to ensure that the domestic election observers do not play any meaningful role in the election.”

It said it was also “gravely concerned about the safety of its observers given the deliberate targeting” of ZESN staff during the wave of violence that followed the first round of elections in March.

It said one observer, Elliot Machipisa, had been killed, 30 others had been beaten and 200 were now displaced. Reports were made to police but to date, “no action has been taken.”

Analysts say the presence of ZESN’s observers in March was crucial in preventing fraud and rigging. The MDC won a majority in parliament, while Tsvangirai failed to win more than 50 percent of the vote needed for an absolute majority.

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