U.S. Ambassador: Zimbabwe Vote Can't Be Halted

U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee says the world can't stop Friday's presidential runoffs, but that diplomats can be involved. In a teleconference from Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, McGee says political brutality is continuing.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, formally withdrew today from his country's presidential runoff. In a moment, we'll hear from President Robert Mugabe's spokesman, George Charamba.

First, the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe said today that nothing can be done to stop the government from moving forward with the election. But the international community can keep a spotlight on the violence that has marred the campaign so far.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: In his withdrawal letter, Morgan Tsvangirai wrote that the runoff election should be null and void. U.S. Ambassador James McGee agrees after personally witnessing the government's brutal tactics against the MDC, Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change.

Mr. JAMES McGEE (U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe): The MDC's withdrawal was regrettable, but is very understandable. The people of MDC were being massacred. The violence has not abated.

KELEMEN: In a conference call today, McGee said that Tsvangirai is still in the Dutch Embassy where he's under protection. And the ambassador describe in great detail how 2,000 opposition supporters have been forced from their homes, living in squalid conditions in the MDC's headquarters, a building raided by police yesterday.

Mr. McGEE: Fortunately, we were able to get word to the people that the police were on the way, and the majority of these people left. And the police still arrested about 30 people who were either too old or too infirm to get out in a hurry.

KELEMEN: Ambassador McGee says while the world can't stop this week's runoff, he and his fellow diplomats can continue to shed light on the situation. Last week, his staff even distributed a videotape of government supporters chasing people with sticks. McGee says someone in his convoy just happened to have a video recorder. He's not worried he'll be kicked out of Zimbabwe for doing things like this and he's not backing down.

Mr. McGEE: I don't think it's any more dangerous for diplomats because of our actions. What I do believe is our actions have shown diplomats that maybe we should be out and about more than we had been in the past.

KELEMEN: Southern African leaders are to hold an emergency meeting on Zimbabwe tomorrow. Ambassador McGee says he wants the group to send a message that, as he puts it, this is an illegitimate government carrying out an illegitimate election.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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Zimbabwe's Government Remains Defiant

When Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew Sunday from the country's tumultuous presidential runoff election, he called it a sham and said he feared for the lives of his supporters.

In an interview with NPR's Robert Siegel, a spokesman for President Robert Mugabe rebutted Tsvangirai's charges of voter intimidation, as well as recent reports that opposition backers have been beaten or killed.

"All the reports that you are dealing with are reports that are coming either from the British machinery or from the American machinery," says the spokesman, George Charamba, in a phone interview from Zimbabwe's capital city, Harare.

Charamba says Tsvangirai withdrew from the election, which is still scheduled to take place Friday, after realizing "he had been facing round rejections" and that he would not repeat his earlier "fluke victory" in voting March 29.

On Monday, the United Nations Security Council passed a unanimous resolution condemning Zimbabwe's electoral crisis. The resolution described how "the campaign of violence and the restrictions on the political opposition have made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place." Charamba calls the resolution a "complete misrepresentation of the facts on the ground."

He says Western governments have exaggerated the current crisis. The same countries that supported the U.N. resolution are to blame for Zimbabwe's economic and political woes, Charamba says.

The United States and Britain supported Tsvangirai in order to impose a 'neo-colonial' regime in Zimbabwe, Charamba says. But "we are a mature society," he says. "We have judgment. That's why we have an electoral process and will decide who will govern us. It can not be the function of an outsider."

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