Brown bids to toughen European sanctions on Zimbabwean regime

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Britain's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, sought to toughen European Union sanctions against the Mugabe regime yesterday after a bruising diplomatic failure in New York, where China and Russia vetoed action on the Zimbabwe crisis from the UN Security Council.

Britain will submit 36 additional names to the list of people already targeted by EU sanctions because of their links to the junta in Harare, said Mr Brown after holding talks with European leaders in Paris.

"We should not lessen the pressure on this regime," the Prime Minister said. "I believe we need to make a transition to democracy as soon as possible."

The 25-nation bloc has already imposed travel and financial sanctions on 131 individuals connected to Mugabe's regime, under measures drafted in 2002. The US has similar sanctions in place.

Fresh from his UN triumph, Mr Mugabe signalled his intent to travel to New York exploiting a diplomatic loophole which allows him to attend UN gatherings as a head of state. Asked if his boss would be travelling to the annual general assembly meeting in September, Zimbabwe's UN ambassador, Boniface Chidyausiku, said: "Yes, definitely he will come."

The 84-year-old has proved adept at side-stepping the measures of his Western critics designed to isolate him, and has rejoiced in opportunities to confront his opponents on the international stage. The failure of the US-UK bid for UN sanctions was greeted with glee by the government in Harare and relief by South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, who has been defending the regime from international pressure.

The UN resolution would have imposed an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and clamped a worldwide asset freeze and travel ban on Mr Mugabe and 13 of his inner circle accused of orchestrating the campaign of political terror in the run-up to the 27 June run-off election. The outline of the measures was backed unanimously by the leaders at the G8 group of rich nations in Japan last week, but Russia shifted its position within 48 hours of signing the statement.

The package of measures also called on the UN to name a special representative to act as a mediator in Zimbabwe, and hopes remain that this will still go ahead. The former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who played a similar role in mediating a resolution to the crisis in Kenya, has made clear his availability to fulfil this task.

South Africa's Mr Mbeki strongly opposes such a move, as it would undermine his role as the regionally appointed mediator.

Concerns were mounting that the failed sanctions bid would harden Mr Mugabe's stance of in talks with the opposition, as he now faces an international community clearly divided on how to move against him.

Mr Brown said it was "very important" that talks "lead to a legitimate outcome". Should they fail, he said, there is a case to go back to the United Nations.

The crisis in Zimbabwe remains Mr Mugabe's main problem as hyperinflation has pushed the Zimbabwean dollar to 350 billion to the pound and the economy has totally collapsed.

"The defeat of the UN resolution is a pyrrhic victory for Mugabe," said opposition Senator David Coltart. "The ball is now firmly in Mbeki's court to deal with this crisis, because he was the one that argued most effectively against the UN resolution and he must now deliver before the situation deteriorates further.