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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Hey there, welcome back to the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. We are online all the time at npr.org/bryantpark. We're going to now delve further into the electoral crisis in Zimbabwe. To recap, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has pulled out of a presidential runoff election against current President Robert Mugabe. That runoff vote was supposed to take place this Friday. Now, the United Nations Security Council has weighed in, saying there's no way a free and fair vote can take place because of the violence and intimation waged against the opposition movement.

For more on the story, we turn now to Celia Duggar. She's a South Africa bureau chief for the New York Times, and she's been covering the saga in Zimbabwe since the March 29th election that started it all. Celia joins me now on the line from Johannesburg, South Africa. Celia, thanks for being here this morning.

Ms. CELIA DUGGAR (Bureau Chief, South Africa, New York Times): Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: The story is unfolding. Tsvangirai has refuge at the Dutch embassy in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, because of fears for his own safety. Celia, what's the latest? What are you hearing on his safety, and when he might be able to leave that embassy?

Ms. DUGGAR: He's still there this morning. The state-owned newspaper, which is a mouthpiece for the ruling party, had a story this morning saying, you know, it's just a stunt by him. Nobody is thinking of arresting him. He can leave. His fears grow out of the fact that his chief strategist has been locked up in horrible conditions now for quite some time. His closest aide had to flee the country yesterday after nearly being captured by men with guns, and it's a very threatening environment in Zimbabwe now, with a lot of violence and a lot of young militia that are not completely under anybody's control wandering the streets.

MARTIN: Well, this was going to be my next question. Who is waging all of this violence? Are they authentic supporters of Mugabe? Are they just criminals taking advantage of an anarchic situation?

Ms. DUGGAR: No, no, they're definitely incited by the ruling party led by President Mugabe. It's part of a coordinated strategy to hold onto power despite the fact that Mr. Tsvangirai won the vote and is now - or beat Mr. Mugabe, though not by a full majority, and was facing a runoff against him.

MARTIN: Tsvangirai has said that he's withdrawing because the outcome wouldn't change. He didn't believe that it would change anything, that Mugabe has said he'll go to war before surrendering power. Now, Morgan Tsvangirai had to have known that when he started his campaign in the very beginning. He knew who he was going up against, someone who's held the reins of power in that country for almost 30 years. Why give up now?

Ms. DUGGAR: I think they believed that, as in past elections, once the election observers arrive from outside the country, that the violence would stop and that they might have a change, given, you know, overwhelming public sentiment of wanting a change, for actually winning. If they could moving their pulling agents into place, if there were people watching what was happening. But what happened this time was the election observers arrived, and the violence continued. And some of those election observers even witnessed murders happening before their eyes.

And the punishment of their people was so severe, so many people being murdered, but also just grotesquely beaten, that they decided that it was simply too high a price to pay. You also had this extraordinary situation where Mugabe was saying publicly at rallies, only God will remove me, and Morgan Tsvangirai will never rule this country. I mean, they had essentially, openly declared an intent to steal the election.

MARTIN: This U.N. Security Council edict that's been handed down, saying that the runoff vote shouldn't take place, that conditions are too dangerous. Is that going to change anything?

Ms. DUGGAR: Not tomorrow, but I think it is an extremely important development. It's the first time that the world has really stood up and said, Mugabe, you are not a legitimate leader of the country anymore. In previous elections, most people believed that they had been rigged, and likely Tsvangirai had won at least in 2002. But the regional powers here in southern Africa, especially led by South Africa itself, had really legitimized Mugabe's rule, and that now is over. Tsvangirai has succeeded in some ways what the civil rights movement did in the American south, which is, by entering this race that he never really believed he could win, it's revealed the ugly face of this Mugabe regime.

MARTIN: So Celia, from where you sit, you think that even though Tsvangirai is now stepping down, even though it now appears likely that Mugabe will retain power. You're still seeing this as a success for the opposition movement?

Ms. DUGGAR: I think it's definitely a signal victory for the opposition, this United Nations action. Whether it will hasten the end of Mugabe's rein, it's very difficult to say. He doesn't seem to care very much what the world thinks. He seems to have a very messianic sense of his role in Zimbabwe. The country has inflation rates that now, most experts think, surpasses two million percent. Eighty percent of the people are unemployed. He seems willing to take the country down with him. So, it's hard to say what this step will mean unless the countries in the region really put the economic screws to the country. And that is not yet clear, whether that will happen.

MARTIN: In that vein, is the leader of South Africa, Mbeki, Thabo Mbeki, is he making - are there any signs that he is willing to step up pressure?

Ms. DUGGAR: Not really. He's continued with his many years strategy of trying to find a negotiated solution between Mugabe, and his ruling party, and the opposition party. But Mugabe has shown no apparent inclination to negotiate and Morgan Tsvangirai, who, you know, won the first round of polling, has said publicly, quite often, that he's willing to have people from the ruling party in his government, but not Mr. Mugabe. So you've got a negotiating impasse, at least publicly.

MARTIN: The last time we spoke with you, we referenced the fact that your husband, who is the co-bureau chief there for the New York Times, had been detained in Zimbabwe when he was in country covering the story. It's been incredibly difficult for journalists to get inside to report what's been happening there. Have those challenges been mounting in the past few weeks as the violence has continued?

Ms. DUGGAR: Yes, I think it's a much scarier place for anybody in the country, with civil society groups, with journalists who're with the opposition. Any repression of all independent voices is mounted in severity.

MARTIN: New York Times South Africa co-bureau chief, Celia Duggar, on the line from Johannesburg, South Africa. Celia, thanks for sharing your reporting with us. We appreciate it.

Ms. DUGGAR: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Take care.

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