More pressure on Mugabe as Russia backs sanctions

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The world's richest nations demanded international action to bring an end to Robert Mugabe's rule in Zimbabwe after Russia dramatically agreed to support sanctions against the regime.

The G8 leaders urged the United Nations to impose its first sanctions against members of the ruling elite and their families and to appoint a special envoy to seek a political settlement based on the March elections, which were won by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

By calling on the world to unite against President Mugabe, the G8 showed that it had finally lost patience with the attempts by South Africa's President, Thabo Mbeki, to broker a solution to the Zimbabwe crisis.

Diplomats said an "African solution" was not working, and conditions in Zimbabe were now so bad that "an international solution" was needed.

Russia and Italy dropped their reservations about sanctions after strong pressure from Gordon Brown, who was backed by the US President, George Bush, and France's Nicolas Sarkozy.

Russia's switch of sides could prove pivotal. It leaves China isolated among the permanent members of the UN Security Council and hopes are rising that Beijing will join the international condemnation of the Mugabe regime when the United States tables a United Nations resolution in the next few days.

Although the European Union has imposed sanctions, UN action has been blocked by Russia and China. Financial sanctions would prevent the ruling elite moving money in or out of Zimbabwe from non-EU nations such as Switzerland, and impose a wider travel ban on them and their relatives.

After Russia and Italy dropped their opposition to sanctions, the G8 summit approved a statement calling for the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, to appoint a special envoy to report on the political, humanitarian, human rights and security situation in Zimabwe and to support regional efforts to mediate between political parties. Crucially, it also added: "We will take further steps, inter alia introducing financial and other measures against those individuals responsible for violence."

The statement raised the prospect of the G8 nations imposing their own sanctions if the UN fails to act. But British officials are cautiously optimistic that, with Russia onside, there will be a breakthrough at the UN with sanctions being imposed within days.

Mr Brown said last night: "This is the strongest statement. It shows the unity of the whole international community reflecting the outrage people feel about the violence and intimidation and the illegitimate holding of power by the Mugabe government."

The state media in Harare reported that talks had been agreed between the regime and the MDC, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, and mediated by President Mbeki. But the MDC dismissed the claim, with a party spokesman insisting that no progress had been made because "the vampire nature of the regime had not changed".

Mr Brown is due to hold talks with Mr Mbeki, who has been widely criticised for failing to take a sufficiently tough stance on the issue, at the G8 summit today.