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World leaders challenged Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's legitimacy yesterday and threatened sanctions after the opposition withdrew from this week's presidential run-off, citing pre-poll violence. Britain and the United States were unequivocal in laying the blame for the violence on Mugabe's government and its "thugs" and said they were prepared to take their concerns to the UN Security Council.

US ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters: "Without a run-off election that's fair, that people can have confidence in, the government cannot be legitimate." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for her part said Zimbabwe must be held accountable for the violence that drove Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai to abandon his challenge to President Robert Mugabe.

Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off election set for Friday and yesterday was reported to have taken refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare. The opposition says more than 80 of its supporters have been killed in a campaign of intimidation ahead of the vote and thousands injured. "The government of Zimbabwe and its thugs must stop the violence now," White House spokesman Carlton Carroll said in a statement.

"The Mugabe regime reinforces its illegitimacy everyday. The senseless acts of violence against the opposition as well as election monitors must stop," he said, adding that the issue might be raised with the Security Council to see what "additional steps" might be taken.

"Mugabe cannot be allowed to repress the Zimbabwean people forever," Carroll said. "In forsaking the most basic tenet of governance - the protection of its people - the government of Zimbabwe must be held accountable by the international community," Rice said. "We call upon the Southern African Development Community, African Union Peace and Security Council, and the United Nations Security Council to take up this issue immediately," she said.

"The United States condemns in the strongest terms the government of Zimbabwe's continuing campaign of violence against its own people,"Aa Rice added. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told parliament, "The international community must send a powerful and united message: that we will not recognise the fraudulent election rigging and the violence and intimidation of a criminal and discredited cabal."

"The current government - with no parliamentary majority, having lost the first round of the presidential elections and holding power only because of violence and intimidation - is a regime that should not be recognised by anyone," he said.

SADC foreign ministers met for talks in Angola, whose foreign minister Joao Miranda said "the situation is extremely grave" in Zimbabwe. SADC has been divided on how to handle Zimbabwe, with some of its 14 members reluctant to criticise Mugabe and others taking a harder line. The grouping's current chair, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, said Sunday it was "scandalous for SADC to remain silent on Zimbabwe."

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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Jun 24, 2008
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