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Pressure mounts on Mugabe

Gift Phiri

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai this week urged southern African countries to step up pressure on President Robert Mugabe to conduct a free and fair poll in March.

=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>Tsvangirai met South African president Thabo Mbeki and Mauritian prime minister Paul Berenger, the chairman of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (Sadc), to convince them that a free and fair election in Zimbabwe was crucial to the resolution of the ongoing crisis.

It was Tsvangirai’s first trip out of Zimbabwe since he was acquitted on treason charges two weeks ago.

“After my acquittal, I joined my colleagues to enforce our engagement with Sadc leaders on the need to create conditions conducive to free elections in Zimbabwe,” Tsvangirai told a news conference in Johannesburg yesterday. “We believe we have a historic opportunity to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis through free and fair elections in accordance with Sadc protocols that were signed in Mauritius two months ago.”

Tsvangirai, acquitted on charges of plotting to assassinate Mugabe, said there was need for political goodwill by all the players to speed up the process of clearing election management systems that should provide a legitimate outcome. He urged Mugabe to improve press freedom, repeal repressive legislation and appoint an independent electoral commission.

“When the crisis in Zimbabwe is resolved, I have confidence that the MDC will form the next government. We believe that Zimbabwe needs to start all over again,” he said.”We really think that the March election is going to be critical for the resolution of the political crisis,” Tsvangirai said.

In answer to a question, Tsvangirai said postponement of the election to June or July afforded a more appropriate timeframe for the Mauritius electoral guidelines to be put in place.

“The continued deterioration of Zimbabwe’s socio-economic and political environment is well documented,” he told the news conference. “People have been stripped of their hard-earned basic freedoms and forced to live in an environment characterised by poverty, hunger, fear, oppression and an absence of the rule of law.

“Zimbabwe’s political context is one of police brutality, political violence and a virtual erosion of the democratic space. The culture of impunity that exists for those guilty of perpetrating gross human rights abuses will leave a permanent scar on our political landscape.”

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