SHARM EL-SHEIK, EGYPT // Prospects of a peaceful deal between the Zimbabwe president, Robert Mugabe, and his top opponent appear to be growing more distant despite efforts by African leaders. Mr Mugabe's spokesman defiantly said the long-time ruler has no plans to step down and told Western critics to "go hang." Some leaders had harsh words for Mr Mugabe in what appeared to be sharp exchanges in closed-door meetings at the African Union (AU) summit yesterday.
Botswana's vice president said Mr Mugabe's government should not be recognised and that Zimbabwe should be barred from AU gatherings. "Botswana's position, therefore, is that the outcome of these elections does not confer legitimacy on the government of President Mugabe," Mompati Merafhe said in a statement. Mr Mugabe responded to the African criticism - which also came from Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone - during the session, said Ismail Ndiye, a delegate from Senegal. "He had a lot to say," Mr Ndiye said, but he would not elaborate.
Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman, Hossam Zaki, said Mr Mugabe spoke for half an hour and lashed out at some African countries who spoke out against him. But pressure for the 84-year-old leader to loosen his grip on power did not appear to have an effect. Mr Mugabe's African peers are trying to persuade him to share power with his top rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, after last weekend's runoff election in which Mr Mugabe declared victory, but which has been widely dismissed as a sham. Mr Tsvangirai dropped out of the race because of killings and beatings of his supporters. African nations were deeply divided, with many reluctant to put public pressure on Mugabe despite UN and Western calls for tough action.
On the final day of the summit yesterday, the AU leaders passed a resolution that only calls for dialogue and mediation in Zimbabwe, but did not directly condemn Mr Mugabe or the runoff. The AU said it was "deeply concerned" about the situation in Zimbabwe but only said it would support "the will" for a unity government. Mr Mugabe's spokesman, George Charamba, took a defiant tone, saying that while Zimbabwe's ruling party has offered dialogue with the opposition, it would not promise that anything "beyond that will emerge." Mr Charamba insisted that Mr Mugabe - who was sworn in for his sixth term on Sunday, a day before flying to the summit - would not step down. "He's a few days into office and you expect him to retire, do you?" he said.
"He has come here as president of Zimbabwe and he will go home as president of Zimbabwe, and when you visit Zimbabwe he will be there as the president of all the people of Zimbabwe," Mr Charamba said. He dismissed growing Western criticism, saying, "They can go hang. They can go and hang a thousand times." In Zimbabwe, Mr Mugabe's opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), also took a hard line. In a statement issued yesterday in Harare, Tendai Biti, a top MDC leader, dismissed speculation that his party and Mugabe's ZANU-PF were about to conclude an agreement to govern together. "Nothing can be as malicious and as further from the truth," said Mr Biti. "As a matter of fact, there are no talks or discussions taking place between the two parties and most importantly, there is no agreement in the offering."
Some members of the MDC office demanded that Mr Mugabe left office. "They lost the election," Nqobizitha Mlilo, who is one of Mr Biti's aids. "They must go." *AP