African pressure mounted today for President Robert Mugabe to call off a 27 June election after the UN Security Council issued an unprecedented condemnation of violence against opposition supporters.
Both Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and South African ruling ANC leader Jacob Zuma said the presidential run-off must be postponed after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the vote and fled to the Dutch embassy in Harare.
Wade said in a statement that Tsvangirai took refuge after being tipped off that soldiers were on the way to his house. "He is only safe because, alerted by friends, he left in a hurry a few minutes earlier," Wade said.
Zuma, who rivals President Thabo Mbeki as South Africa's most powerful man, called for urgent intervention by the U.N. and regional body SADC (Southern African Development Community), saying the situation in Zimbabwe was out of control.
"The ANC (African National Congress) says the run-off is no longer a solution, you need a political arrangement first ... then elections down the line," Zuma said.
The 15-member Security Council echoed mounting international concern over Zimbabwe's political turmoil and economic meltdown, blamed by the West and the opposition on Mugabe, 84, who has held uninterrupted power for 28 years.
South Africa, China and Russia, who have previously blocked discussion of Zimbabwe in the Security Council, joined in a unanimous condemnation of the bloodshed.
Tsvangirai has not requested asylum but spent a second night in the Dutch embassy on Monday. He told Dutch Radio 1 on Tuesday that his refuge was temporary and that the government had assured the Dutch ambassador that he would not be hurt.
He said he could leave in the next few days and Mugabe could no longer defy international opinion.
SADC foreign ministers discussed the crisis in the Angolan capital Luanda on Monday.
The state-run ANGOP news agency said SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salomao told reporters the group agreed with Tsvangirai that a "climate of extreme violence" existed in Zimbabwe and the government must protect its citizens.
A non-binding statement by the Security Council in New York condemned "the campaign of violence against the political opposition ... which has resulted in the killing of scores of opposition activists and other Zimbabweans and the beating and displacement of thousands of people, including many women and children."
Tsvangirai told Dutch radio: "I think it's a very important resolution. It recognises the people who are accountable for the violence and it squarely placed that responsibility at Mugabe's leadership."
Mugabe's government remained defiant and said the election would go ahead on Friday. The veteran leader accused former colonial power Britain and other Western countries of lying about the violence because they wanted to interfere.
South Africa, an advocate of "quiet diplomacy" with Mugabe, said it was "very pleased" with the statement because it "assists us in the mediation".
President Thabo Mbeki, the designated regional mediator in the crisis, has resisted calls to use Pretoria's powerful economic leverage over landlocked Zimbabwe.
But Zuma, who toppled Mbeki as ANC leader last December, has become increasingly outspoken over the crisis.
The party issued a statement saying there was compelling evidence of violence, intimidation and "outright terror." It said free and fair elections were impossible and called on Mugabe's government "to take up the challenge of finding a negotiated settlement to the current impasse."