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Page last updated at 20:00 GMT, Wednesday, 25 June 2008 21:00 UK

Africans urge Zimbabwe poll delay

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe
President Robert Mugabe has vowed to go ahead with Friday's vote

An emergency summit of southern African countries has called for Zimbabwe's run-off presidential election to be postponed because of recent violence.

The governments of Swaziland, Tanzania and Angola said conditions would not permit a free and fair election.

Former South African leader Nelson Mandela spoke in London of "the tragic failure of leadership" in Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, the South African foreign ministry said about 300 Zimbabweans had sought refuge at its embassy in Harare.

A spokesman for the ministry told the BBC that the South African ambassador was in talks with the group, alleged to be MDC supporters, in an effort to resolve the situation.

Britain has also said it is to withdraw an honorary knighthood granted to President Robert Mugabe.

Mr Mugabe is the first foreigner to be stripped of the award since Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, the day before his execution.

US President George W Bush said the election planned for Friday appeared "to be a sham" because the opposition had not been able to campaign without fear of intimidation.

Time for action

"Tragic failure of leadership in our neighbouring Zimbabwe"

Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had earlier urged intervention by the African Union and neighbouring states to resolve the country's political crisis.

The summit of southern African leaders urged the two sides to hold talks aimed at finding a compromise.

The statement followed a day-long meeting in the Swazi capital, Mbabane, of the three countries from the regional Southern African Development Community (Sadc) responsible for overseeing peace and security in the region.

The leaders said they were concerned and disappointed by Morgan Tsvangirai's withdrawal on Sunday from the vote.

The time for actions is now, the people and the country can wait no longer - we need to show leadership
Morgan Tsvangirai

But they said that holding the election under the present circumstances might undermine the credibility and legitimacy of its outcome.

They also said the people of Zimbabwe deserved a "cooling-off period".

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), says some 86 of its supporters have been killed and 200,000 forced from their homes by militias loyal to the ruling Zanu-PF party. The government blames the MDC for the violence.

Asked what would happen if Mr Mugabe went ahead with the election, the leaders said: "Let's wait and see."

They said they had invited South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, the regional mediator over Zimbabwe. Although he was absent, they said, he had briefed them by phone.

They insisted there were no divisions over Zimbabwe.

Demands

The statement follows an appeal by Mr Tsvangirai for African leaders to help resolve Zimbabwe's crisis.

Morgan Tsvangirai speaking at a news conference at his home in Harare

"I am asking the AU [African Union] and Sadc to lead an expanded initiative supported by the UN to manage what I will call a transitional process," he said at a news conference in Harare.

Dismissing Friday's planned election as pointless, he said Zimbabwe should work out a political settlement based on genuine and honest dialogue.

Mr Tsvangirai said the AU role that he was proposing could not "be a continuation of talks and talks about talks that have been largely fruitless for several years.

"The time for actions is now. The people and the country can wait no longer. We need to show leadership."

He also listed four key demands that he described as a way out of the crisis.

  • Violence must stop immediately - so-called war veterans and youth militias should return home and checkpoints be removed
  • Humanitarian assistance must be allowed into the country
  • All members of parliament elected on 29 March must be sworn in
  • All political prisoners, including the MDC secretary general, must be released immediately

He said the details of his proposals would need to be hammered out through negotiations.

While campaigning on Tuesday, Mr Mugabe said his government was open to negotiations with "anyone" but only after the elections.

The government and Zimbabwe's election authority insist Friday's vote will go ahead because Mr Tsvangirai's withdrawal came too late to prevent his name appearing on the ballot paper and was therefore invalid.

Mr Mugabe officially came second to Mr Tsvangirai in the first round in March.

The governing Zanu-PF party, led by Mr Mugabe, also lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence in 1980.


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