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President Bush calls for more penalties against Zimbabwe

Sunday, June 29, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Zimbabwe came under threat of further sanctions Saturday as President Bush said the U.S. was working on new ways to punish longtime leader Robert Mugabe and his allies following the widely denounced presidential runoff election.

Earlier Saturday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. plans to introduce a U.N. resolution as early as this week seeking tough measures against Zimbabwe.

"We will press for strong action by the United Nations, including an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and travel ban on regime officials," Bush said in a statement issued while he spent the weekend at Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

The European Union said it would not rule out taking sanctions against "those responsible for the tragic events of recent months," according to an EU presidency statement.

Friday's runoff election was widely condemned by African and other world leaders. Mugabe was the only candidate, and observers said the few Zimbabweans who went to the polls did so only out of fear.

According to human rights groups, at least 86 people died and some 200,000 were forced from their homes. Most of the violence was blamed on police, soldiers and Mugabe militants. There were reports of victims being beaten for hours and bodies mutilated. When the main targets could not be found, relatives were attacked.

"The international community has condemned the Mugabe regime's ruthless campaign of politically motivated violence and intimidation with a strong and unified voice that makes clear that yesterday's election was in no way free and fair," Bush said.

The U.S. already has financial and travel penalties in place against more than 170 citizens and entities with ties to Mugabe, White House spokesman Emily Lawrimore said. The Bush administration is considering punishing the government of Zimbabwe as well as further restricting the travel and financial activities of Mugabe supporters, she said.

In Zimbabwe, deputy chief election officer Utloile Silaigwana announced on state television that counting had finished in most wards and that the electoral commission was waiting for results from a few outstanding wards. Results would still need to be verified by the national command center before being released.

Results would still need to be verified by the national command center before being released, but an announcement was expected as early as Saturday -- contrasting sharply with the weeks it took to before Zimbabweans learned opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round.

Tsvangirai came first in a field of four in the first round in March, but the official count didn't give him the margin needed to avoid a runoff against second-place finisher Mugabe. Tsvangirai pulled out of the race after the onslaught of violence.

Earlier, Justice Minister and senior ZANU-PF member Patrick Chinamasa said the party was expecting results either Saturday or Sunday.

"From the information filtering in, it looks like a clear win for our president," he said.

An announcement of the result is expected before Mugabe leaves for Monday's African Union summit in Egypt, so he can attend as a re-elected president.

On Friday, residents said they were forced to vote by threats of violence or arson from Mugabe supporters who searched for anyone without an ink-stained finger -- the telltale sign that they had cast a ballot.

"There was a lot of intimidation for people to vote," said Marwick Khumalo, head of the Pan-African Parliament observer mission. "You can tell people just wanted to get the indelible ink to protect themselves from the hooligans."

The Herald, Zimbabwe's state-run newspaper, reported Saturday that a massive voter turnout was "a slap in the face for detractors who claimed this was a 'Mugabe election' that did not have the blessing of the generality of Zimbabweans."

But Khumalo said the turnout was "very, very low." He also said many of those who did vote cast their ballots for Tsvangirai.

Boycotting the poll and spoiling their votes were brave acts by Zimbabweans following the intense violence the opposition faced in the run-up to the election.

Mugabe could try to use the Tsvangirai votes as evidence the election was not a sham, but they are more likely to be seen as a display of the desire to show support for the opposition leader against all odds.

On Saturday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged African nations to help bring an end to Mugabe's rule, and called the election a "new low" in Zimbabwe's affairs. The upcoming African Union summit in Egypt is "an opportunity for the region to restore hope to the people of Zimbabwe. Democracy will ultimately prevail," he said in a statement.

In the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik where African foreign ministers were meeting ahead of Monday's general AU summit, a Zimbabwe opposition leader asked the AU to send peacekeepers and dedicate a special envoy to help end the violence and political crisis in her country.

"Zimbabwe at the present moment is burning. It is on fire. What the African Union and the African leaders must do is save Zimbabwe before it is burnt beyond recognition," the opposition's vice president, Thokozani Khupe, told The Associated Press.

Also Saturday, the international aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres said that South Africa had deported some 450 Zimbabweans overnight from a border detention center who were "fleeing instability and political violence."

Siobhan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Home Affairs, said she didn't know "the particulars of this case.

"My assumption would be that they would be in the country illegally and do not qualify for refugee status and therefore were returned to Zimbabwe," McCarthy said.

Mugabe, who has led the country since independence in 1980, was once hailed as a post-independence leader committed to development and reconciliation. But in recent years, he has been accused of ruining Zimbabwe's economy and holding onto power through fraud and intimidation.

The official inflation rate was put at 165,000 percent by the government in February, but independent estimates put the real figure closer to 4 million percent.

Since the first round of elections, shortages of basic goods have worsened, public services have come to virtual standstill, and power and water outages have continued daily.


Associated Press writers Celean Jacobson and Michelle Faul in Johannesburg, South Africa; Paul Schemm in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.


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