18 March 2002

Mugabe sworn in among repression against MDC supporters

After being sworn in yesterday as president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe boasted that the Zimbabwean people had triumphed over British neo-colonialism and he declared: "The land reform programme must proceed with greater speed and strength... We have dealt a stunning blow to imperialism," he added, saying that by exercising their sovereign right to determine their destiny, the Zimbabwean people had said "loudly to those in Europe, no, no, never, never again shall Zimbabwe be a colony".

The inauguration, which in the past had been held at Harare's national stadium, proved to be a low-key affair at State House, with hundreds of chairs empty as fighter aircraft flew by and a 21-gun salute boomed out. Britain and its European partners, along with USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, who were among the many critics to denounce the election as unacceptably flawed, declined invitations to be present at the swearing-in ceremony. Though the presidents of several African countries - Namibia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo - attended, President Olesugun Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa stayed away.

They will be in Harare today to discuss with Mr Mugabe the scathing report on the election by the Commonwealth observer mission. The pair are members of a "troika" appointed at the Commonwealth summit earlier this month, along with John Howard, the Australian prime minister, who will meet in London tomorrow to decide whether the 54-member body should sanction Zimbabwe or expel it from the Commonwealth.

Mr Mbeki will make a last-ditch attempt to persuade Mr Mugabe to accept a government of national unity in Zimbabwe or "step down with dignity". He will also tell the Zimbabwean leader that unless he moves swiftly to reconcile his deeply divided country, his disputed election victory will reduce to ashes Africa's international credibility. Mr Mbeki has been under intense international pressure during the weekend to abandon his "quiet diplomacy" approach to the Mugabe regime. Diplomats said US, Britain and other European leaders had told Mr Mbeki that it was time to get tough with Mr Mugabe.

Both Mr Blair and President Bush are reported to have emphasised in personal telephone calls to Mr Mbeki that economic aid and foreign investment in Africa have been put under threat by the continent's apparent acceptance of a patently flawed presidential election in Zimbabwe.

Mr Mugabe's militant supporters clearly anticipated his pledge yesterday to speed up land seizures by driving away Ian Kay, an MDC supporter, and his wife Kerry along with 80 workers from their farm 45 miles south-east of Harare, on Saturday. The Kays, unlike many white farmers, continued publicly to support the MDC after land invasions began in February 2000. Witnesses say the Zanu PF flag was raised above their looted home.

The Commercial Farmers' Union said yesterday that another 44 white farmers would be charged today in connection with assistance given to the MDC during the election. These farmers, from the Raffingora area, north of Harare have been in hiding since police let it be known they were wanted and would be arrested. Some 56 farmers, including their wives, are now facing charges since the start of voting on March 9. More than 150 white farmers have been charged with offences in the last two years. So far not one has been brought to trial. Roy Bennett, an MDC MP in the eastern Manicaland Province, said yesterday that the purge against MDC election support staff and supporters was reaching "grotesque" levels. "People are being attacked, one man was killed in my area, many are beaten, and many houses have been burned down. This is not going to stop." (ZMNews / Daily Telegraph, UK)

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