Tsvangirai in South Africa for Zimbabwe crisis talks

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The Independent Online

The Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has held crisis talks with the leader of South Africa's ruling party about the Zimbabwean electoral stand-off, after calling for international action to secure the departure of President Robert Mugabe.

Mr Tsvangirai flew to Johannesburg on his first trip outside Zimbabwe since the March elections for talks with Jacob Zuma, the potential successor of Thabo Mbeki – who had recently met Gordon Brown.

President Mugabe appears determined to remain in power at any cost. Yesterday, 23 farms in Zimbabwe's southern Masvingo province and the northern town of Centenary were invaded, according to Trevor Gifford, the president of the Commercial Farmers Union. "It's very apparent this is being co-ordinated from higher up the chain of command," he told the Associated Press.

With the Zimbabwe high court poised to rule on the release of the much-delayed presidential poll results, Mr Tsvangirai urged South Africa to act with Britain and the US to "remove the white-knuckle grip" of the 84-year-old President. Mr Mugabe has conceded defeat in the parliamentary election, held on 29 March, but has refused to allow the release of the presidential results, prompting Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to go to court.

Mr Tsvangirai, writing in The Guardian, urged the International Monetary Fund to withhold £1bn aid unless Mr Mugabe "accepts the election results in full and hands over the reins of power". Zimbabwe came under further international pressure yesterday when the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, called on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to release the results of the presidential election "expeditiously and with transparency".

Gordon Brown meanwhile called for "proper international monitoring" in case of a run-off presidential vote. "I believe there is a united will of the international community that elections have got to be seen to be fair, election results have got to be published, elections have got to be properly monitored," he said.

There seems to have been some dismay in London at Mr Mbeki's continued emphasis on a "softly softly" approach. He stressed on Saturday that it was "time to wait". "It's a bit worrying," said one diplomat. "This is very serious."

Mr Brown refused to comment when asked whether he was happy with their two-hour meeting. Mr Mbeki also insisted international intervention is not needed to break the electoral deadlock, telling reporters: "Zimbabwe is not a South African province, can we agree about that?"

However Mr Tsvangirai may have had a more sympathetic reception from Mr Zuma. A source close to the African National Congress leader explained the visit as a bid "to secure support from the ANC, not so much from South Africa but support from one party to another. From the ANC to the MDC".

The party leaders were said to have discussed the "best possible options" for Zimbabwe's opposition movement in the event that Mr Mugabe "chooses to use force to remain in power without the appropriate endorsement of his people" or to compete against Mr Tsvangirai in a bitter and violent run-off. It is understood Mr Zuma appealed to Mr Tsvangirai "not to go down the Kenya route" and to consider his options carefully. "Zuma is strongly against violence over elections," the source said

* Two Western journalists, a Briton and an American, who were arrested last Thursday while trying to cover the election were granted bail yesterday.

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