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Daily Archives: April 15, 2008

Zimbabweans await ruling on presidential result

by Susan Njanji* 

The high court in Zimbabwe was to rule yesterday on whether to order the immediate release of results of a March 29 presidential election in a judgement that could plunge the country into a general strike.
All eyes will be on Justice Tendai Uchena as he decides whether to agree to an opposition request for the Zimbabwe electoral commission to immediately declare the result or allow the wait for the outcome to stretch to the weekend.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, whose leader Morgan Tsvangirai has already claimed victory over President Robert Mugabe, is planning to stage a general strike today if results are not released by then.
Experts believe there is little likelihood of the court ruling in favour of the opposition demand or any such order being respected by the commission.
"There is a possibility that the court could rule that the results should be released within four hours as demanded by the MDC, but the ZEC (commission) lawyer has already said ordering a release of the results could be dangerous," said Harare-based commentator Charles Mangongera.
"That means there is a chance that ZEC might not comply with the ruling. So if the court says yes, it might turn out to be a mere academic decision."
Southern African leaders who met in Zambia over the weekend to discuss the impasse merely called for the results to be announced "expeditiously", saying the matter should be decided by the courts and the electoral commission.
The opposition says it has no faith in the commission after it ordered a partial recount of results which could see Mugabe's party regain control of parliament.
The MDC has also mounted a legal challenge to the recount order, which in theory could lead to Mugabe's Zimbabwe Africa National Union – Patriotic Front party regaining control of parliament.
At Saturday's emergency summit in Lusaka, regional leaders discussed the post-election impasse long into the night, but were always unlikely to find a swift solution after Mugabe decided to stay away.
They stopped short of criticising the Zimbabwean government or Mugabe, who was not even mentioned in a four-page joint statement.
Regional leaders have been chided for their traditional reluctance to speak out against Mugabe, seen by many as an elder statesman who still deserves respect for his role in winning Zimbabwe's independence.
Nevertheless many are fed up with the economic mess on their doorstep with inflation in Zimbabwe now well into six figures, unemployment at over 80 percent and average life expectancy down to 36 years of age.
Zimbabwe's opposition urged South African President Thabo Mbeki to ditch his policy of quiet diplomacy after he was asked by regional leaders at the weekend to continue his role.
Mbeki was chief mediator between the governing ZANU-PF party and Tsvangirai's MDC in the build-up to the election, but has come under fire for his policy of "quiet diplomacy".
On his way to Lusaka to join other leaders and delegations of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), Mbeki dropped in on Harare and held his first face-to-face talks with Mugabe since the disputed elections.
"The body authorised to release the results is the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, let's wait for them to announce the results," he told journalists afterwards, insisting there was "no crisis" in his northern neighbour.
Tsvangirai, still trying to drum up regional support to keep the pressure on Mugabe, was in Zimbabwe's eastern neighbour Mozambique yesterday. Sources said that he was to meet with Mozambican opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama.
No meetings however had so far been held with President Armando Guebuza.


US, Iran in secret discussions on nuclear program

The United States and Iran have been conducting secret back-channel discussions on Tehran's nuclear program and frozen relations between the two countries, The Independent reported yesterday.
The British newspaper quotes former US under secretary of state Thomas Pickering as saying that a group of former US diplomats and foreign policy experts had been meeting with Iranian academics and policy advisers "in a lot of different places, although not in the US or Iran" for the past five years.
"Some of the Iranians were connected to official institutions inside Iran," Pickering told the paper.
Last week, the United States warned Iran it risked further isolation and new international sanctions after refusing to comply with UN Security Council resolutions over its disputed nuclear program.
The West fears Iran could use enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon, and Tehran's refusal to suspend the process has been punished with three sets of UN Security Council sanctions resolutions and US pressure on its banking system.
The US government is hoping the sanctions will put increasing popular pressure on the Iranian leadership, with which it does not have diplomatic relations.
The Independent reported that the contact group was put together by the UN Association of the USA and facilitated by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think-tank chaired by former chief UN weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus.
"We discussed what's going on domestically in both countries and wide-ranging issues," The Independent quoted Pickering as saying.
He added that although none of the group members was from the US or Iranian governments, "each side kept their officials informed," according to the British paper.