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Daily Archives: April 29, 2008

Zimbabwe defies Western pressure over election results

by Fanuel Jongwe*

Lawyers in Zimbabwe appealed for the release of some 200 jailed opposition activists yesterday as officials defied pressure from the West to release the results of last month's presidential election.
The activists were rounded up by armed riot police at the headquarters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Harare on Friday, the same day police raided the offices of independent election observers.
"We got an order from the high court… that they be released immediately. If not, they should be charged and be brought to court by 1600 hours (2200 Macau time)," Alec Muchadehama, one of the lawyers, said.
Muchadehama said some of the detainees needed urgent medical attention.
Meanwhile election officials said there would be a further delay in the announcement of results from a presidential election on March 29 that pitted veteran leader Robert Mugabe against opposition challenger Morgan Tsvangirai.
A spokesman for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said the results of a partial recount still had to be verified and that the outcome would only be announced after a meeting with representatives of the candidates.
"We will give them a date or phone them when they can come, but right now that has not been done as we are still verifying the figures from the constituencies," said the spokesman, Utloile Silaigwana.
Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980 and faces the biggest challenge of his political career, with the opposition saying its candidate won an outright majority in the presidential vote.
The troubled southern African state has been in sharp economic decline, with shortages of most basic foodstuffs and an inflation rate officially put at 165,000 percent — the highest in the world.
Election officials have earlier confirmed that the opposition won a historic victory in parliamentary elections also held on March 29, taking control of the legislature from Mugabe's ZANU-PF party for the first time in 28 years.
The opposition accuses Mugabe of ordering the recount in order to buy time to unleash a campaign of violence in rural areas that voted against him so as to secure victory in a possible second round of the presidential election.
The opposition says 15 of its supporters have been killed so far.
Britain and the United States have urged Mugabe to step down, saying the opposition won the presidential vote. A UN Security Council meeting today is expected to ratchet up the pressure even more.
The secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change, Tendai Biti, was expected to meet with officials on the sidelines of the UN meeting to call for a UN envoy to help broker a peaceful transition of power in Zimbabwe.
The main US envoy for Africa, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, has threatened Zimbabwe with UN sanctions if the crisis continues and Britain has called for a UN mission to verify human rights abuses in the country.
In a statement issued on Sunday, Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned politically-motivated attacks and called on both government and opposition supporters to refrain from violence.
In Zimbabwe, a group of veterans from the country's national liberation war that have been critical of Mugabe in the past accused the 84-year-old leader of imposing "a fascist dictatorship" in a statement yesterday.


Schools cancel classes as California fires rage

by Paula Bustamante*

Schools in the eastern suburbs of Los Angeles cancelled classes yesterday as a raging brush fire swept through local mountains and canyons and forced the evacuation of at least 400 homes.
All Sierra Madre schools, both public and private, will be closed yesterday, authorities announced, predicting that if the weather continued to cooperate, the blaze could be fully contained only in four to seven days.
Meanwhile, helicopters and planes were dumping water and fire retardant on the blaze — the first major fire of the dreaded summer fire season — which since Saturday has consumed 350 acres (140 hectares) in foothills near California's Santa Anita Canyon about 25 kilometres from downtown Los Angeles.
Officials said that battling the northern section of the fire was more difficult because it was burning up steep slopes through thick brush inaccessible to bulldozers.
Elisa Weaver, a spokeswoman for the Arcadia Fire Department, said that 200 homes had been evacuated Saturday night and another 200 early Sunday.
"This is a mandatory evacuation. We do not want people to wait until the last minute and then have to leave as fire trucks are moving up the roads," Weaver added.
Two firefighters were slightly injured, The Los Angeles Times reported, citing Sierra Madre Fire Department Battalion Chief Michael Bamberger.
But while there were no injuries among the affected population, firefighters remained concerned that the ferocity of the blaze — fueled by an ongoing southern California heat wave that has seen temperatures rise to 37 Celsius — could threaten more residents living closer to Los Angeles.
"This is not a lazy fire. This fire is burning with some energy," Bamberger told a news briefing.
"I was waiting for the possibility of more evacuations, although it looks like we're making good progress tying off the southern end of the fire near the city's northern boundary, which is where more homes are located," Bamberger said, adding that no homes had been burned.
About 1,000 people have left their homes, as roughly 400 firefighters battled the blaze, which was just five percent under control.
Weaver said the early season brushfire, which started along a day-use trail in an area popular among picnickers and hikers, had cut off an exit route for a wedding party that was to take place at a mountain campground.
The wedding party, consisting of 45 people and four pets, had to be lifted out by helicopter to a campground at Chantry Flats, according to the spokeswoman.
"They are six kilometres away from the fire and are in no danger," Weaver said.
Southern California is frequently hit by scorching wildfires due to its dry climate, Santa Ana winds and recent housing booms in suburban and wooded areas.
Last October, devastating wildfires were among the worst in Californian history, leaving seven people dead, destroying 2,000 homes, displacing 640,000 people and causing one billion dollars in damage.