African Leaders Ignore International Calls To Censure Zimbabwe Leader

Friday, March 30th 2007, 7:57 am

By: News On 6

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ President Robert Mugabe's fiercely loyal state broadcaster said Friday he achieved a diplomatic victory when southern African leaders at a regional summit rallied behind him despite international criticism over the clampdown on the opposition movement.

The outcome of Thursday's meeting of the Southern African Development Community gave Mugabe a boost ahead of a meeting of the ruling party's central committee in Harare Friday.

State radio, the official voice of the government, described Thursday's emergency summit in Tanzania as ``a huge milestone for Zimbabwe.''

It said Mugabe's detractors at home and abroad, who had called for Mugabe to be censured and given a deadline to resign, were left with ``their tails between their legs.''

``The African leaders failed to be manipulated,'' it said.

The summit assigned South African President Thabo Mbeki the task of opening dialogue between the Zimbabwe government and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change after an surge in unrest and political violence.

Mbeki has been criticized at home and abroad for his failure to condemn Mugabe and his insistence on a quiet diplomacy that has had no effect.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, chairman of the regional bloc, said the summit decided ``to promote dialogue of the parties in Zimbabwe. There is no replacement to that.''

Mugabe, 83, is under growing pressure to step down as leader of the country he has ruled since independence in 1980. Tensions are said to be rising in his party over his succession and acute shortages of food, hard currency and gasoline.

In the economic meltdown, official inflation, fueled by high level corruption and black market dealing, is 1,700 percent, the highest in the world.

Before leaving for Tanzania, Mugabe held a meeting of the ruling party's highest body, the politburo, to discuss whether to hold national elections in 2008 or 2010.

Ruling party spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira said Mugabe, who has pushed for a delay until 2010, expressed willingness to run if nominated.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the main opposition leader, was freed from several hours in police custody, but nine others detained in a raid were charged Thursday in what the government alleged was a terror campaign, opposition officials said.

The opposition accused Mugabe's government of trying to demonize it by fabricating allegations of an armed terror campaign.

The government insists the opposition was behind a string of firebombs, and on Wednesday police displayed explosives, detonators and two handguns they claimed were found at the home of two arrested opposition officials.

Party officials said Tsvangirai was released after several hours in custody to see a doctor because he was suffering dizzy spells from a police beating earlier this month.

Sixty others were arrested in Wednesday's raid on the opposition party's headquarters, and several were beaten by police wielding riot sticks and boots, party officials said.

``They made us lie on our bellies and beat our backs, buttocks and feet,'' said opposition lawmaker Felix Mashu, who was freed Thursday morning.

Police denied detaining Tsvangirai but said they have arrested 35 opposition activists in connection with a series of nine gasoline bomb attacks this month.

Seven opposition members were charged Thursday with attempted murder in connection with the bombings, Alec Muchedehama, an attorney for the opposition, told The Associated Press.

Biti said some of the people arrested Wednesday had no connection to the party but rented office space in the building.

Most of the offices at the headquarters were trashed during the raid. Biti showed reporters doors that were smashed open _ some with gaping holes from rifle butts _ broken and upturned furniture and papers littering the floors.

``It was wanton destruction,'' Biti said.

All files were removed from the records office, and maps and documents on elections and party strategies were taken away. Almost all the party's computers were removed.

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