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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Declaring that this Friday's runoff election is no longer credible, Zimbabwe's opposition leader has withdrawn from the vote. Morgan Tsvangirai says he can no longer watch his supporters being killed for the sake of power. He blamed the administration of President Robert Mugabe for a "violent, illegitimate sham of an election process."

And we turn to one of his supporters, also a senator with the Movement for Democratic Change, the opposition party, David Coltart. Good morning.

Mr. DAVID COLTART (Senator, Movement for Democratic Change): Good morning to you.

MONTAGNE: Mr. Tsvangirai's supporters and, you know, opposition supporters have been killed in great numbers, by the dozens, beaten, arrested. Why is Morgan Tsvangirai dropping out now when the election is so close and so many people have paid a huge price already?

Mr. COLTART: Our past experiences with ZANU-PF and Robert Mugabe have tended to let up on the pressure in the couple of weeks prior to the election. That's certainly been my experience in the last eight years. However, in this case the opposite has happened. There seems to be increasing brutality in the run-up to this election, which I think is a reflection of the paranoia experienced by Robert Mugabe.

And our feeling is that given the brazen nature of the violence, it is clear that Robert Mugabe has thrown caution to the wind. And our assumption is that if he's brazen now in the run-up to the elections, he's going to be equally brazen on election day and in the count.

And so what is the point of going through with this if it's going to result in further deaths, in further torture and Robert Mugabe will just declare a result of his choosing in any event?

MONTAGNE: But in the end, this decision does seem to guarantee that Robert Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF, will be victorious. He will be sworn in.

Mr. COLTART: Well, yes, that is the case. But, of course, his rhetoric in the last few days has increased dramatically. He has consistently said in the Last few days - that is Robert Mugabe is - is that if he loses there will be war. So, to that extent we've had no choice in the matter. We tried to avoid a war and to avoid a war we have made this decision.

We have had assurances from regional leaders that they have grown tired of Robert Mugabe's stance and certainly the statement made by President Mwanawasa of Zambia yesterday was deeply encouraging. In his statement, he called on Robert Mugabe to postpone the election. And we think there may be a lot more regional pressures brought to there on Robert Mugabe and his regime in the coming days and weeks, which could slow resolve to the situation.

MONTAGNE: And the Zambian president is head of the Southern African Development Community.

Mr. COLTART: That's right. He's chair of the Southern African Development Community, so he's in a particularly powerful position. And ZANU-PF and Robert Mugabe have relied heavily on the diplomatic cover given to them by SADC in the last few years.

MONTAGNE: Now, the U.S. and Britain are taking this matter before the U.N. Security Council today. Is it at all realistic to imagine that the U.N. can have any influence on Mugabe given how little it's been able to have thus far?

Mr. COLTART: I don't think that the U.N. can have much influence over Robert Mugabe, but the U.N. will undoubtedly have considerable influence over South Africa and over southern African nations. Bear in mind that Zimbabwe's right in the middle of southern Africa. It used to have the second strongest economy. And the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy is starting to have an extremely adverse consequences on the region.

So, the region is desperately looking for a way out of this and if it can start collaborating with the United Nations, that combined pressure may be irresistible for Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF.

MONTAGNE: But basically you're talking about pressure because so far sanctions haven't worked, it's not reasonable to think that there will be any sort of troops coming in from outside - it's pressure.

Mr. COLTART: Yes, it's mainly diplomatic pressure. Sanctions, well, of course, there have only been targeted sanctions against the leaders of ZANU-PF. There are no economic sanctions in place (unintelligible) recourse of those. But bear in mind that even economic sanctions won't have any impact on the situation because the Zimbabwean economy has already collapsed. Inflation is running at several hundred thousand percent. The currency is all but worthless. People are leaving the country in droves.

So, there's very little need for economic pressure.

MONTAGNE: Do you expect opposition supporters to go to the polls if Mr. Tsvangirai is not actually running?

Mr. COLTART: I don't think that many people will go to the polls on Friday if this election goes ahead. I think that there will be a very small turnout. There's a climate of fear prevailing in this country, which is unprecedented. If Mr. Tsvangirai formally withdraws his candidacy, then there won't be an election at all. Robert Mugabe will just be declared the winner.

MONTAGNE: Senator Coltart, thanks very much for talking with us.

Mr. COLTART: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: David Coltart is with the opposition party in Zimbabwe.

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