Tsvangirai Sets Deadline for Zimbabwe's President

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai issued a 24-hour deadline Thursday to President Robert Mugabe to negotiate or face being shunned as an illegitimate leader responsible for the killing of civilians.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Zimbabwe holds its runoff election tomorrow, and despite international calls for it to be postponed it intends to hold that election. The name of the opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai remains on the ballot, even though he has declared that he is withdrawing from the election. And we go now to NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton who has been following the events in Zimbabwe.

Good morning.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Well, the election is going forward. What will the turn out be given that there were plenty of voters who were supporting Morgan Tsvangirai? Will they vote?

QUIST-ARCTON: Who knows? I don't think Tsvangirai voters - I don't think the opposition voters are going to turn out, because, of course, a lot of them are scared because of this campaign of violence, intimidation and terror the opposition is saying, even though their candidate is still on the ballot. But President Robert Mugabe is going ahead regardless of what not only the international community is saying but now more and more his neighbors. That he should scrap this poll and he should mediate and negotiate with the opposition.

MONTAGNE: Now, there have been calls for some sort of a negotiated settlement. Morgan Tsvangirai suggested that at first. The government didn't seem to respond. But what exactly is happening with that?

QUIST-ARCTON: You know, nobody quite knows what's happening behind the scenes. But what Morgan Tsvangirai, as the opposition leader, has said is that if negotiations are going to happen it has to be before tomorrow's runoff. He says that if President Robert Mugabe goes ahead with what he has called a sham election, a charade - and even President Bush yesterday called a sham - that there will be no negotiations.

So certainly the Southern Africa Development Community regional leaders are trying not so much to pressurize President Robert Mugabe, but to get him to talk to the opposition. But as yet, we don't know whether that is going to happen.

MONTAGNE: Now, Ofeibea, you are following events from Johannesburg. That's probably because foreign reporters like yourself are not allowed into Zimbabwe, even would be in some danger if you went there and reported out of there. What, though, do you know about the violence that has racked that country?

QUIST-ARCTON: That it is spreading and has spread. Just yesterday, apparently 300 opposition supporters gathered at the South African embassy in Zimbabwe's capital Harare saying they were frightened for their lives. One man said my house has been destroyed to ground level. My whole property has been destroyed and looted. My family - I don't know where my family is right now. I'm alone. I don't know where my wife is. I don't know where my kids are.

So that is the sort of fear that many Zimbabweans are feeling, especially those who may have voted for the opposition in the first round and who were thinking of doing that tomorrow if the vote had gone ahead with two candidates. There is this feeling that Robert Mugabe's government is in a way desperate, but in a way very strong. And it's showing its strength by cracking down on its opponents. Not just its political opponents, but ordinary Zimbabweans who are viewed as traitors because they supported opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

MONTAGNE: Yes. It does seem that if Robert Mugabe basically goes through with this vote - there is no opposition functionally - and declares himself or is declared president - the winner - there really isn't anything the international community can do about that.

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, I suppose they can say, but you're not a legitimate leader Robert Mugabe. You went through with a sham election. And it's not just the West - hostile Western nations, like Britain, like Washington, with whom Mugabe has very poor relations. It's now some of his neighbors, people in his neighborhood, who are saying this is absolutely too much.

MONTAGNE: Ofeibea?

QUIST-ARCTON: They're the ones - yes?

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton speaking to us from Johannesburg, South Africa.

And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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