Defiant Mugabe attends summit

The Baltimore Sun

SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt - A day after his inauguration for a sixth term as president, Robert G. Mugabe, the runaway winner in a violence-stained electoral race in Zimbabwe, arrived in this Red Sea resort yesterday for an African Union summit, under pressure from the United Nations and his neighbors to negotiate a settlement with his adversaries.

Mugabe, 84, flew here as the winner of Zimbabwe's presidential runoff vote, which world leaders called illegitimate because of bloodshed and intimidation, and which African parliamentary monitors said was neither free, fair nor credible. Observers for the Southern African Development Community, a bloc of 14 nations, concluded in a statement that the election "did not represent the will of the people of Zimbabwe," Reuters news service reported.

The African Union's own observers said yesterday in a statement issued in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, that the vote "fell short" of the organization's standards.

Yesterday, Asha-Rose Migiro, the U.N. deputy secretary-general, told African leaders at the summit that they had reached a "moment of truth." Before the elections, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had sharply condemned the violence and took the unusual step of calling for the runoff to be postponed.

"We are facing an extremely grave crisis," Migiro said. "This is the single greatest challenge to regional stability in Southern Africa, not only because of its terrible humanitarian and security consequences, but because of the dangerous political precedent it sets."

"Only dialogue between the Zimbabwean parties, supported by the African Union and other regional actors, can restore peace and stability to the country," she declared.

That call for discussions was echoed in more specific terms in South Africa, the main regional power-broker, where the Foreign Ministry urged Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, to "enter into negotiations which will lead to the formation of a transitional government that can extricate Zimbabwe from its current political challenges."

Mugabe's decision to attend the African summit was apparently designed as a defiant assertion of his place among African leaders, with him ready, if necessary, to challenge his peers to prove their own democratic credentials.

At his last campaign rally Thursday, Mugabe "said he was prepared to face any of his African Union counterparts disparaging Zimbabwe's electoral conduct because some of their countries had worse elections record," the state-run Herald newspaper reported yesterday.

Thokozani Khupe, the vice president of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, said in an interview yesterday that the opposition wanted the establishment of a "transitional authority" based on the outcome of the March 29 vote - a formula that would give Tsvangirai the upper hand.

"Zimbabwe is burning," Khupe said. "It is on fire. It is important that the African leaders save it before it burns beyond recognition."

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