Mbeki plays down Zimbabwe violence

The South African President, Thabo Mbeki, provided new evidence yesterday of the international community's inability to stop the continuing violence in Zimbabwe.

In a television address to South Africa, which followed a new fall in the country's currency in reaction to the crisis in Zimbabwe, President Mbeki attempted to soothe investors in the region by highlighting his own foreign policy successes. In sharp contrast to Britain's criticism of President Robert Mugabe's pre-election terror campaign, President Mbeki highlighted what he saw as positive steps towards an end to the crisis.

Setting the stage for his meeting with Mr Mugabe in Bulawayo today, southern Africa's most influential leader appeared to attack the South African media and white business interests for feeding "a psychosis of fear in our own country, based on nothing else but racist prejudices, assumptions and objectives".

But the image-damaging violence - which has claimed at least 18 lives in three months and included up to 1,000 farm occupations - continued in Zimbabwe. About 40 farms were occupied between Wednesday lunchtime and yesterday evening. The Movement for Democratic Change, whose supporters are the main targets of the ruling party's terror campaign, said one of its parliamentary candidates in southwestern Matabeleland had suffered head injuries in an ambush on Wednesday.

David Coltart, an MDC candidate in Matabeleland, the province that includes Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, said he felt the "systematic violence" would increase in the run-up to elections, which may take place as late as August.

He said: "They will probably try to soften up the cities, as well as the rural areas, immediately prior to the elections.''

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