Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Queen Strips Mugabe of Knighthood

Story from The New York Times June 25, 2008 Queen Elizabeth II has stripped Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s strongman president for nearly 30 years, of his honorary knighthood as a “mark of revulsion” at the human rights abuses and “abject disregard” for democracy over which he has presided, the British Foreign Office announced Wednesday. The rebuke showed the extent of international frustration over Mr. Mugabe’s insistence to go ahead with a presidential runoff on Friday, even though his sole opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, pulled out of race on Sunday because of the persistent violence and intimidation against him, his party and their supporters. Mr. Mugabe’s government has had a long history of human rights abuses, but he was granted an honorary knighthood during an official visit to England in 1994 when, the foreign office contends, “the conditions in Zimbabwe were very different.” But with the widespread attacks against the opposition, the foreign office said the honor could no longer be justified. Stripping a dignitary of an honorary knighthood is exceedingly rare. A foreign office spokesman could think of only one other time it had been done — in 1989 to the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu. Mr. Tsvangirai, the beleaguered opposition leader, called on the United Nations on Wednesday to send a peacekeeping force to bring calm to the country and help pave the way for new elections in which he could participate as a “legitimate candidate.” “Zimbabwe will break if the world does not come to our aid,” he said in an op-ed in The Guardian newspaper in London. After weeks of mounting political violence against the opposition and its supporters, Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew from Friday’s runoff and took refuge Sunday in the Dutch Embassy in Harare. He emerged from the embassy briefly on Wednesday to hold a news conference at his home in which he challenged President Robert Mugabe to cancel the runoff and open negotiations. But, he said, he was not prepared to deal with a government validated by an election in which Mr. Mugabe is by default the only candidate. Mr. Mugabe has insisted Friday’s voting will go ahead. “We have said we are prepared to negotiate on this side of the 27th, not the other side of the 27th,” Mr. Tsvangirai said, according to Reuters. He listed four demands: an end to political violence; the resumption of humanitarian aid; the swearing in of legislators elected in the first round of voting on March 29; and the release of political prisoners. “We have always maintained that the Zimbabwean problem is an African problem that requires an African solution,” he said, referring to continent-wide and regional African bodies including the Southern African Development Community. “To this end, I am asking the African Union and S.A.D.C. to lead an expanded initiative, supported by the United Nations, to manage the transitional process. “The transitional period would allow the country to heal,” he said. “Genuine and honest dialogue amongst Zimbabweans is the only way forward.” He said he wanted the African Union to endorse his proposals at a forthcoming summit meeting in Egypt. Mr. Tsvangirai’s demands coincided with a scramble of regional and international diplomacy with many African and Western institutions saying the vote on Friday will be neither free nor fair. A critical group of southern African countries opened a meeting Wednesday in Swaziland to seek a way out of the crisis. The meeting grouped leaders or ministers from Swaziland, Angola and Tanzania — the so-called troika charged with responsibility for the region’s political, defense and security issues. The group said it had also invited the leaders of Zambia and South Africa to attend, but President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, the regional mediator on the crisis in Zimbabwe, said through a spokesman that he would not attend. The spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said in a telephone interview that South Africa was not a member of the troika and had not been invited. Amid the international outcry over his government’s handling of the crisis, Mr. Mugabe, 84, was reported Tuesday as hinting that he might be open to talks with the opposition, but only after Friday’s vote confirmed his power. He remained defiant about going ahead with the runoff. “They can shout as loud as they like from Washington or from London or from any other quarter,” Mr. Mugabe said in televised broadcasts. “Our people, our people, only our people will decide and nobody else.” Taken together, his remarks were the most explicit affirmation that he intended to go through with an election widely condemned as illegitimate. Rest of article.

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