Mbeki defends cautious line over Mugabe

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Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa, has defended his cautious approach to the Zimbabwe crisis in talks with European Union leaders determined to weaken Robert Mugabe, the country’s hardline president, with targeted sanctions.

By Tony Barber in Bordeaux

“We recognise the fact that the global community is very interested in the issue of Zimbabwe,” Mr Mbeki said after talks with Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, and José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president. “We didn’t ask the EU to do anything about sanctions in any direction.”

The EU broadened its sanctions on Tuesday by adding 37 individuals and four companies to a list of more than 130 of Mr Mugabe’s relatives and officials already blacklisted by the 27-nation bloc.

The EU wants to see a transitional government in Harare that would include Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader. It hopes this would significantly reduce Mr Mugabe’s power, even if he continued to hold the symbolic reins of office.

But after Friday’s first EU-South Africa summit, in the French city of Bordeaux, a joint communiqué made clear the two sides had failed to bridge basic differences over how to solve southern Africa’s most serious political and economic crisis.

“South Africa underlined that all parties needed to respect the right of the people of Zimbabwe to determine their future without external interference, and that the most urgent task from now on consisted in helping the Zimbabwean leaders, beyond political divisions, to negotiate an accord that would let Zimbabwe meet the challenges facing it,” the statement said.

The EU, which is South Africa’s largest trade partner, reaffirmed its position that it was ready to take unspecified “new measures” against Mr Mugabe and his supporters “in the absence of positive changes in the weeks to come”.

Mr Mbeki brokered a deal on Monday under which Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai would hold two weeks of negotiations on a power-sharing arrangement. But the talks appeared under strain on Friday. The Herald, a state-owned Zimbabwean newspaper, reported that Mr Mugabe’s ruling party had decided to turn down any power-sharing deal that failed to recognise his re-election last month.

Zanu-PF also ruled out any deal that would attempt to reverse Mr Mugabe’s land reform programme, which the EU contends is partly responsible for Zimbabwe’s economic disarray.

The EU dismissed Mr Mugabe’s reconfirmation in office as a sham after Mr Tsvangirai withdrew from the second-round election because of government-inspired violence against supporters of his Movement for Democratic Change.

The US expanded sanctions on Friday on the government of Mr Mugabe, writes Demetri Sevastopulo from Washington. The move will make it easier for the US to target the assets of people and companies connected to the regime.

George W. Bush, the US president, said the actions were a “direct result of the Mugabe regime’s continued politically motivated violence” surrounding the recent election.

The Financial Times

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