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Bush seeks sanctions against Zimbabwe

The United States is developing penalties against the government of Zimbabwe, President Bush said Saturday, in response to the country's widely-condemned runoff election.
Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, left, meets with unidentified electoral officials in Harare, Saturday, a day after the country went to the polls in a runoff election. AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Zimbabwe came under threat of further sanctions on Saturday as President Bush said the U.S. was working on new ways to punish longtime leader Robert Mugabe and his allies following the widely denounced presidential runoff election.

Earlier Saturday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. plans to introduce a U.N. resolution as early as next week seeking tough measures against Zimbabwe.

"We will press for strong action by the United Nations, including an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and travel ban on regime officials," Bush said in a statement issued while he spent the weekend at Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

Friday's runoff election was widely condemned by African and other world leaders. Longtime President Robert Mugabe was the only candidate and observers said the few Zimbabweans who went to the polls did so only out of fear.

"The international community has condemned the Mugabe regime's ruthless campaign of politically motivated violence and intimidation with a strong and unified voice that makes clear that yesterday's election was in no way free and fair," Bush said.

Financial, travel penalties in place
The U.S. already has financial and travel penalties in place against more than 170 citizens and entities with ties to Mugabe, White House spokesman Emily Lawrimore said. The Bush administration is considering punishing the government of Zimbabwe as well as further restricting the travel and financial activities of Mugabe supporters, she said.

In Zimbabwe, deputy chief election officer Utloile Silaigwana announced on state television that counting had finished in most wards and that the electoral commission was waiting for results from a few outstanding wards.

Results would still need to be verified by the national command center before being released. There is no indication of when this might happen, but it is expected Saturday.

Earlier, Justice Minister and senior ZANU-PF member Patrick Chinamasa said the party was expecting results either Saturday or Sunday.

"From the information filtering in, it looks like a clear win for our president," he said.

An announcement of the result is expected before Mugabe leaves for Monday's African Union summit in Egypt, so he can attend as a victorious re-elected president.

South Africa deports Zimbabweans
Also Saturday, an international aid group said that South Africa had deported some 450 Zimbabweans overnight from a border detention center.

Medecins Sans Frontieres said one of its teams visited the center on Friday and found more than 450 men, women and children there saying they had crossed the border in recent days, "fleeing instability and political violence."

When the aid team returned Saturday with supplies, it found the center empty the agency said in a statement. It said South African authorities had confirmed all the Zimbabweans were sent back.

Siobhan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Home Affairs, told The Associated Press on Saturday that foreigners caught at the border are screened to determine their status.

"I don't know the particulars of this case, my assumption would be that they would be in the country illegally and do not qualify for refugee status and therefore were returned to Zimbabwe," McCarthy said.

Intimidation claimed
On Friday, residents said they were forced to vote by threats of violence or arson from Mugabe supporters who searched for anyone without an ink-stained finger — the telltale sign that they had cast a ballot.

"There was a lot of intimidation for people to vote," said Marwick Khumalo, head of the Pan-African Parliament observer mission. "You can tell people just wanted to get the indelible ink to protect themselves from the hooligans."

Contrary to the state-run newspaper's report of a "massive turnout," Khumalo said the turnout was "very, very low." He also said many of those who did vote cast their ballots for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who pulled out of the race after an onslaught of state-sponsored violence against his Democratic Movement for Change.

Boycotting the poll and spoiling their votes were brave acts by Zimbabweans following the intense violence the opposition faced in the run-up to the election.

Mugabe could try to use the Tsvangirai votes as evidence the election was not a sham, but they are more likely to be seen as a display of the desire to show support for the opposition leader against all odds.

The Herald, Zimbabwe's state-run newspaper, reported Saturday that a massive voter turnout was "a slap in the face for detractors who claimed this was a 'Mugabe election' that did not have the blessing of the generality of Zimbabweans."

Also Saturday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged African nations to help bring an end to Mugabe's rule, and called the election a "new low" in Zimbabwe's affairs. The upcoming African Union summit is "an opportunity for the region to restore hope to the people of Zimbabwe. Democracy will ultimately prevail," he said in a statement.

Other presidents critical
The presidents of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda — in a rare comment about the affairs of another African country — said Zimbabwe's one-candidate runoff, "cannot be a solution," to the country's political crisis.

The presidents, at a regular summit of the East African Community held in Kigali, Rwanda, urged Mugabe's and Tsvangirai's parties "to come together and work out an amicable solution through dialogue in the interest of all Zimbabweans."

Tsvangirai said he still wanted negotiations about a transitional authority for Zimbabwe but was not sure whether he could talk with Mugabe, 84.

Mugabe, who has been president since independence in 1980, offered an olive branch to the opposition Thursday, saying he was "open to discussion" with them.

Tsvangirai was first in a field of four in the March vote, an embarrassment to Mugabe. The official tally said he did not gain the votes necessary to avoid a runoff against Mugabe. Tsvangirai's party and its allies also won control of parliament in March, dislodging Mugabe's party for the first time since independence in 1980.

Mugabe was once hailed as a post-independence leader committed to development and reconciliation. But in recent years, he has been accused of ruining Zimbabwe's economy and holding onto power through fraud and intimidation.

The official inflation rate was put at 165,000 percent by the government in February, but independent estimates put the real figure closer to 4 million percent.

Since the first round of elections, shortages of basic goods have worsened, public services have come to virtual standstill, and power and water outages have continued daily.