Thabo Mbeki to meet Mugabe as pressure mounts

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Embattled Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe Saturday snubbed a regional summit in Zambia, called to resolve a tense electoral impasse in his country, as pressure mounted for the veteran leader to quit, following a disputed poll to retain him in power.

Officials said Mugabe, 84, had decided to snub the summit of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) because it was called without consulting his government.

Instead, he sent his foreign, justice and housing ministers to the Lusaka summit, where regional leaders were expected to toughen their stance on Zimbabwe’s government.

The summit followed an electoral stand-off between the government and the opposition over the presidential election held 29 March, whose results have been controversially withheld by the authorities.

The opposition claims it won the poll, based on early returns and demanded the government steps down to allow it to assume office.

The government has alleged fraud, and asked the country’s electoral body to withhold the results until investigations have been carried out.

The High Court is expected to rule on the stand-off Monday following an opposition petition pressing for the release of the poll results.

The stand-off is ratcheting up political tensions in the country, prompting SADC to call an emergency meeting to discuss the impasse and help avert Kenya-style post-election violence in Zimbabwe.

But Mugabe, increasingly isolated both at home and abroad, stayed away from the Saturday summit, saying he was not properly consulted.

His refusal to have the results of the election published, thereby fuelling speculation he was defeated, as claimed by the opposition, and wants to manipulate the outcome to prolong his 28-year rule.

Analysts said SADC, which has until now supported the Zimbabwean government in its stand off with western powers opposed to Mugabe, were this time expected to be tough on Harare.

The Zimbabwean leader, they said, had worsened the situation by snubbing the summit on what they called ‘flimsy’ reasons.

At home, the opposition has called for a general strike, starting Tuesday, to force the government to release the election results.

Churches and other civic bodies have joined the fray in support of the opposition, pressing the authorities to respect the will of the people as expressed through the election.

Internationally, pressure is also mounting on Mugabe, with both foes and friends, including the UN Secretary General, adding their voices of disapproval over the electoral conduct.

Police Friday banned political rallies countrywide, which the opposition planned to hold over the electoral impasse, citing the tense political atmosphere in the country.

Unconfirmed reports Saturday said South African President Thabo Mbeki was expected in Zimbabwe to meet Mugabe over the impasse.

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