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Zimbabwe: ‘Wait, see and hope’

WASHINGTON: A panel of experts on Zimbabwe admitted frustration on Tuesday that international pressure against President Robert Mugabe has failed to weaken his hold on power.

Tom Woods, a top African affairs official at the United States State Department, said the grim p

rospect for Zimbabweans is that Mugabe will remain in power until his term ends in 2008.

Under Mugabe’s rule, Woods said, the southern African country has suffered an economic decline of 40% in recent years and a brain drain that is probably irreversible.

Zimbabwe could become “a failed state or a failing state,” Woods said, speaking to a gathering at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

He said the world should support growing pressures for change in Zimbabwe and act to save the people of Zimbabwe from the “worst aspects” of Mugabe’s rule.

In recent years, he said, the United States has provided $300-million in food aid to Zimbabwe, “a country that used to feed itself and the region”.

The United States has been denying visas to top Zimbabwean government officials for years, and Woods said that policy may be extended to their family members.

Chris Maroleng, a Zimbabwean citizen who addressed the centre by videophone hookup from South Africa, said the African Union must speak out more forcefully against Mugabe.

He added that South Africa, “instead of providing support for Mugabe, should do nothing”.

John Prendergast, of the International Crisis Group, which monitors global trouble spots, derided what he called “the wait, see and hope” attitude of the outside world toward Zimbabwe.

Its pressure consists of “small twigs, not meaningful sticks” and “does not influence policy-makers in Zimbabwe,” Prendergast said.

Bus operators arrested

Meanwhile, police in the Zimbabwean capital Harare have arrested 770 bus operators this week for overcharging passengers, the state-controlled Herald newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Mugabe’s government hiked fuel prices by more than 130% earlier this month, prompting many bus operators to more than double their fares.

But any increases have first to be approved by the authorities. The new fares were not approved, the paper said.

“We appreciate that there is a shortage of fuel in the country and that commuter omnibus operators have expenses to meet, but it is always wise to abide by the law,” police spokesperson Loveness Rupere told the newspaper.

Rupere said the 770 bus operators had been arrested starting on Monday. They had all been fined $25 000 per passenger and made to pay back what was overcharged, he said. — Sapa/AP

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