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Zimbabwe Faces Stronger Sanctions

March 14, 2002

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HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ Zimbabwe’s government faced the prospect of stronger international sanctions Thursday following the re-election of President Robert Mugabe in a vote condemned by most election observers and Western nations as deeply flawed.

The Commonwealth grouping of former British territories joined the United States and European nations Thursday in saying Mugabe’s victory in the weekend elections was marred by violence and intimidation of the opposition and did not reflect the will of Zimbabweans.

The criticism was in sharp contrast to the reaction of many African nations, who defended the legitimacy of Mugabe’s victory.

South Africa’s Deputy President Jacob Zuma paid a courtesy call on Mugabe Thursday, congratulating him. ``Those discrediting Zimbabwe’s electoral process should listen to what the Africans are saying,″ Zuma told Zimbabwean state radio.

The presidents of Tanzania and Kenya also sent Mugabe their congratulations, and some African observer groups called the vote legitimate. ``In general the elections were transparent, credible, free and fair,″ the observer team of the Organization of African Unity said in a statement.

The differing point of views reflects a long-running conflict between African governments and their former colonial powers as to what constitutes a fair election, with African leaders arguing that Western standards should not apply to the continent.

Government officials have repeatedly denied irregularities in the election. The government announced Wednesday that Mugabe defeated his main rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, winning 56 percent of the vote to Tsvangirai’s 42 percent. Of about 5.6 million registered voters, about 3.1 million cast ballots, the government said.

Mugabe, 78, a former freedom fighter who has led this southern Africa nation since its independence from white rule in 1980, was once hailed as a model of African statesmanship. But for the past two years he has resorted to violence to cement his hold on power, encouraging ruling party militants in their sweep against supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

The United States and Britain threatened to beef up sanctions focusing on Mugabe and his allies. The European Union, which imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions last month after Mugabe refused to let its monitors observe the elections, has threatened further punishment. EU leaders are expected to discuss the situation in a summit in Spain this weekend.

``We do not recognize the outcome of the election because we think it’s flawed,″ President Bush said Wednesday. ``We are dealing with our friends to figure out how to deal with this flawed election.″

The United States imposed travel sanctions against Mugabe and his allies last month, and Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States might impose more sanctions.

An observer team from the Commonwealth said the elections were so badly flawed that the results did not seem to express the will of the people of Zimbabwe.

Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, the former military ruler of Nigeria who headed the Commonwealth mission, condemned violence that preceded the elections, which the observers blamed on ruling party efforts to intimidate opposition supporters.

The Commonwealth also cited the police’s refusal to stop the violence and a series of new security laws which, they said, prevented the opposition from effectively campaigning.

``It is our view that the ruling party used its incumbency to exploit state resources for the benefit of its electoral campaign,″ Abubakar told journalists.

Independent observer missions from Norway, southern Africa and Zimbabwe itself described an election in which a complex tapestry of intimidation, unfair laws and chaotic voting procedures tipped the poll in Mugabe’s favor.

``The electoral process could not be said to have adequately complied with the norms and standards for elections,″ said G.D. Lefhoko, leader of the Southern Africa Development Community Parliamentary Forum’s observer mission. He said one group of his observers was attacked by militants as they visited a rural area in the weeks before the campaign.

An observer team from Nigeria, however, declared the election free and fair. South Africa’s observer mission stopped short of calling the election fair, but did call the results ``legitimate.″

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was ``anxious about the situation,″ appealing to Zimbabweans to stay calm and saying they ``showed amazing commitment and patience in the way they turned out and tried to vote.″

Annan said there were conflicting reports from election observers on the vote’s fairness. ``But there is clearly great controversy both within the country and abroad,″ he said.

The EU last month cut off $110 million in development aid for the 2002-2007 period, banned all travel to the EU for Mugabe and 20 of his Cabinet ministers and froze their assets in Europe.

Tsvangirai promptly rejected the vote results. ``It is the biggest electoral fraud I have ever witnessed in my life,″ he told a news conference Wednesday. The election is ``illegitimate in the eyes of the people.″

The former labor leader had posed the strongest challenge yet to Mugabe, who faced little dissent until recent years, when the nation’s economy collapsed and political violence became rampant.

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