February 19, 2012

Elections held in 2012, says Mugabe / NGOs suspended / EU lifts some visa bans

Pesident Robert Mugabe has announced that he would "definitely" call elections that year to end a fragile three-year coalition with the former opposition, while describing as "cowards" politicians who say polls cannot be held until well into 2013. In an interview to mark his 88th birthday in The Sunday Mail, Mugabe dismissed objections to early polls. "That is what cowards say. Elections can happen at any time ... Definitely, yes," this year, he said. Mugabe turns 88 on Tuesday. Speaking to The Sunday Mail, he said money would be found in the embattled economy to pay for the presidential and parliamentary elections. The interview will be broadcast on state television a day before his birthday.

The Zanu-PF party kicked out foreign NGOs. The Zanu-PF governor of the southerly Masvingo province, Titus Maluleke, said the 29 NGOs had been suspended in Masvingo for ignoring demands to renew their annual registration. “These organisations have left us with no choice except to suspend them from operating in the province with immediate effect as they have twice failed to submit to the requirements of our laws,” he told the Herald daily. Local regulations require NGOs to register with both the central government in the capital Harare and with local authorities in the outlying provinces. A ban in one province does not extend to others, but makes the work of an NGO more difficult. Among the suspended organisations are the rights groups Zimbabwe Peace Project and Zimbabwe Community Development Programme, as well as Care International, a leading provider of food aid in some of Masvingo’s drought-prone districts.

In the meantime, the European Union has removed 51 loyalists of Zimbabwe's president from a list of people facing travel and banking bans in their countries. Another two Cabinet ministers answering to President Robert Mugabe can also travel to Europe to help in negotiations to "re-engage" on relations between Zimbabwe and the 27 nations in the European bloc, the EU further said. It said 20 companies and businesses linked to Mugabe's Zanu-PF party were being taken off the targeted sanctions list, imposed to protest human rights violations.

Those freed to travel and do business in Europe include former ministers, officials and journalists of the Mugabe-controlled state media. Remaining on the banned list are 123 individuals and companies. A long-standing Western arms embargo against Zimbabwe is not affected by the changes. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi will get travel visas to go the Brussels to engage in "high level consultations" with Europe on normalising ties, Aldo Dell'Ariccia, the EU chief representative in Harare told reporters. He said there were still serious problems in implementing democratic reforms but a new constitution was being crafted. "We welcome the progress made toward the creation of a conducive environment for the holding of free, fair, peaceful and transparent elections," he said. "These are dynamics that deserve a gesture."

According to Dell'Ariccia the bans were reviewed by assessing the criteria used to list individuals and businesses over the past decade. Journalists were de-listed in recognition of recent efforts to free up local media and stop "hate speech" that was pervasive in the state media three years ago. White businessmen John Bredenkamp and Billy Rautenbach, seen as fronting lucrative mining and finance businesses for Mugabe's party in Zimbabwe and across the region, are no longer banned in Europe, along with a nephew of Mugabe who is a business tycoon. Also removed was Tafataona Mahoso, a Mugabe propagandist who enforced sweeping media curbs starting in 2003 that saw hundreds of journalists arrested and assaulted or banned from working. He became known as Mugabe's "media hangman". Judge George Chiweshe, discredited for his handling of the 2008 polls as head of the state elections commission, Tshinga Dube, chief executive at the state weapons maker, and Charles Utete, Mugabe's former Cabinet secretary, were taken off the banned list.

Zanu-PF said the partial lifting of sanctions was "a non-event". "Our position is very clear. We want the unconditional lifting of all sanctions," said Rugare Gumbo, Zanu-PF spokesperson. "This idea of lifting the sanctions piecemeal is all nonsensical. It's a non-event. The sanctions are illegal. They were not approved by the UN but by a group of European countries who came together and were influenced by the British to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe." (Sapa)

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