(AFP) – May 9, 2008
HARARE (AFP) — South African President Thabo Mbeki, the chief regional mediator on the crisis in Zimbabawe, arrived in Harare on Friday under pressure to help end the country's electoral deadlock and political violence.
Mbeki, widely criticised for his softly-softly approach towards his Zimbabwean counterpart Robert Mugabe, was to meet the veteran president for the first time since the results of the March 29 elections were announced.
"Mbeki will meet with the country's political leadership in the context of his Southern African Development Community-mandated facilitation process," said Ronnie Mamoepa, a South African foreign ministry spokesman.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), whose leader Morgan Tsvangirai has called for Mbeki to be axed as mediator, said it had not been invited to talks during the South African's stay.
Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the first round of voting and the MDC won control of parliament, but politically-motivated violence, delays in the electoral process and worsening economic conditions have cast Zimbabwe into crisis.
Tsvangirai is currently out of the country, but when asked if Mbeki would meet any other MDC leaders, Mamoepa said: "For now, we do not want to be specific on who he is going to meet."
The MDC said it had not received any invitation from Mbeki to meet its leadership during his one-day visit to the Zimbabwean capital.
"We know he (Mbeki) is meeting President Robert Mugabe. But we have no official communication that he is going to meet with the MDC or its leadership," said George Sibotshiwe, a spokesman for Tsvangirai.
The opposition leader has been out of Zimbabwe for several weeks, meeting with African leaders and diplomats in an effort to step up pressure on the 84-year-old Mugabe to step down after 28 years in power.
Leaders of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), meeting in the Zambian capital Lusaka last month, asked Mbeki to continue his mission as chief mediator between Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the MDC.
But Tsvangirai, who has previously accused the South African of lacking courage in his dealings with Mugabe, called several days later for Mbeki to be "relieved of his duties" as SADC mediator.
Mbeki has consistently refused to publicly criticise Mugabe, even though South Africa has paid a high price for the economic meltdown across its northern border.
Some three million Zimbabweans are believed to have crossed into South Africa to find work, with unemployment running at over 80 percent in their homeland and the inflation rate now more than 165,000 percent.
While a raft of world leaders have expressed concern about rising levels of violence since the polls, Mbeki has kept largely quiet although he dispatched a team to Zimbabwe to investigate the reports of unrest.
On his last visit to Harare last month, Mbeki drew criticism for saying that there was "no crisis" in Zimbabwe. He later said he meant that there was no electoral crisis.
Opposition claims that 30 of its supporters have been killed in the violence, which have been disputed by the authorities who have in turn accused MDC activists of carrying out arson attacks.
The violence has added to the tension at a time when the electoral commission -- which took nearly five weeks to announce the results of the presidential election -- has still to set the date for a run-off.
Tsvangirai has yet to announce whether he will stand in a run-off, convinced that he won an outright majority in the first round.
Results released by the commission last Friday showed that Tsvangirai won 47.9 percent against 43.2 percent for Mugabe. A third candidate, former finance minister Simba Makoni, now is out of the race.
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