Image: Zimbabwe elections
Mujahid Safodien  /  AP
Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai made an impassioned plea this week for the international community to persuade President Robert Mugabe, seen here in an election poster in Harare, to step down. The U.S.,  European Union and U.N. are calling for the publication of election results — but haven't gone further.
updated 4/8/2008 6:07:25 PM ET 2008-04-08T22:07:25

Zimbabwe's impeccably dressed President Robert Mugabe can't shop at Savile Row and Harrods anymore. The security minister's sons were thrown out of an Australian university. The foreign bank accounts of dozens of top officials have been frozen.

What else can be done to pressure Zimbabwe's autocratic ruler? Not much, diplomats and analysts say. The West is avoiding broad sanctions that could hurt already economically distressed Zimbabweans, and there is no sentiment in Africa or elsewhere to use military power.

"We have worked closely with many in the international community to try to bring pressure on the government in Zimbabwe to change its ways. That has not had much effect," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack concedes.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai made an impassioned plea this week for the international community to persuade Mugabe to step down, even as Zimbabwe's electoral officials delayed releasing results of the March 29 presidential election.

Opposition fears intimidation
Independent tallies indicate Tsvangirai won the most votes, but not enough to avoid a runoff. The opposition fears Mugabe will use ruling party militants and his security forces to intimidate voters and rig the runoff results as he has in past elections.

Violence will be used as "a weapon to reverse the people's victory," Tsvangirai said.

Britain, the former colonial ruler, and the United States, the European Union and the United Nations are putting out daily statements urging publication of the results — but haven't gone further.

World leaders appear to be leaving it up to South African President Thabo Mbeki, whose "quiet diplomacy" approach is criticized by some as appeasement that has allowed Mugabe to dig in his heels while presiding over rigged elections and the destruction of Zimbabwe's economy.

Mbeki calls for patience. "I think there is time to wait. Let's see the outcome of the election results," he said Sunday. The South African leader has made no public call for the release of the results, which independent monitors say were available the day after the vote.

South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance has urged Mbeki to consider asking the African Union to send monitors or peacekeepers to Zimbabwe. His predecessor, Nelson Mandela, an outspoken critic of Mugabe and of Mbeki's handling of the crisis, set a precedent for such a move when he sent troops into Lesotho in 1998 to end protests over rigged elections and to prevent a coup.

African leaders remain silent
But African leaders — who applaud Mugabe at summits as one of the few remaining liberation icons — have been silent and are unlikely to agree to send troops.

"We are concerned by the deafening silence in the region in the AU" and in the Southern African Development Community, Tendai Biti, secretary-general of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, said Tuesday.

"I say to our brothers and sisters across the continent: Don't wait for dead bodies in the streets of Harare," Biti added.

African leaders are concerned because they have been unable to contact Mugage, said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, reporting on a conversation with President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, current chairman of the African Union.

John Makumbe, a political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe, said opposition officials told him Tsvangirai had sent delegations to meet with Kikwete, Mbeki and President Levi Mwanawasa of Zambia last week.

"The same message has come through: That there is little, if anything, they can do, apart from urging Mugabe to allow (the electoral commission) to release results and take proper steps thereafter in relation to the law," Makumbe said.

A U.N. Security Council diplomat said it would be difficult for the world body to do anything given Mbeki's opposition, especially since South Africa holds the council's rotating presidency this month. In addition, China, which became a strong Mugabe ally after the West abandoned him, would likely veto any action.

The only major African to speak out over the past week has been Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general from Ghana. Annan mediated this year's Kenyan election crisis, interceding after more than 1,000 people were killed in ethnic clashes that began as protests over the presidential vote count.

"The eyes of the world are on Zimbabwe, on its electoral commission, on its president," Annan said last week. "I urge them to do the right thing ... The election results should be released now."

Calls for mediation
Annan and other eminent Africans should go to Zimbabwe to mediate before the situation gets out of control, said Makumbe, the Zimbabwe professor.

Makumbe also suggested Tsvangirai marshal his supporters to "agitate in a peaceful but robust manner" for release of the election results. But the opposition fears protests are just what Mugabe is looking for — an excuse to turn security forces loose to terrorize his foes.

Tsvangirai took another approach, flying to South Africa to meet Monday with Jacob Zuma, the political leader who humiliated Mbeki by defeating him in an election to lead the governing African National Congress.

Zuma never was sympathetic to Mugabe and, until he became ANC president, openly criticized Mbeki's stance on Zimbabwe. Neither party would discuss their talks, but Zuma and the ANC are close to the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which supports Tsvangirai, a former labor leader.

Western nations limit pressure
Western nations have limited their pressure on Mugabe to targeted sanctions on the Zimbabwean leader and about 130 of his allies, banning their travel and freezing their overseas bank accounts. Humanitarian aid, with the EU the biggest donor, continues to flow, but is channeled through aid groups rather than the government.

Tsvangirai has called for the West to expand the sanctions to include more people in Zimbabwe's leadership.

Last year, Australia refused to allow children of those targeted to be educated in the country. A couple dozen Zimbabwean students were forced to leave, including the sons of Emmerson Mnangagwa, the security minister.

The expelled students, however, found places in European schools. They shunned the University of Zimbabwe, where academic standards have collapsed under a shortage of books and lecturers, and water outages have forced authorities to install portable toilets, now filthy.

Known for his sartorial elegance, Mugabe used to love shopping at the exclusive tailors along London's Savile Row and in the swank Harrods department store. Today, his suits are made locally at a shop called Liberty Tailors.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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