The West can't stop Mugabe now

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The Independent Online

In the end, it all came to nothing: the threats of sanctions, the anguished discussions among EU and Commonwealth leaders, the attempts by foreign observers to ensure that voters were not intimidated. Nothing could stop Robert Mugabe winning a fifth term as president of Zimbabwe, although few people believe he achieved last week's victory fairly.

Even the election observers from South Africa, who declared the result legitimate, were divided. This weekend, prime ministers and presidents all over the world are having to face the outcome that none of them wanted. Mugabe's re-election is a wounding demonstration of their impotence in a continent that Tony Blair has made the focus of his mission to tackle poverty and injustice.

The leaders of the world's democracies have not even been able to find a means of limiting Mugabe's power and preventing him from committing more atrocities. Amnesty International is already warning that supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change could come under attack.

Hopes of limiting the scale of the disaster now rest with South Africa, which has been trying to persuade Mugabe to form a government of national unity with the MDC. That is a long way from deposing a tyrant with one of the worst human-rights records in Africa, and his actions on Friday, which included confirming new laws severely limiting press freedom, do not suggest that his victory has put him in a conciliatory mood. The situation has not been helped by accusations of election-stealing by George Bush, who became US President only after a highly unsatisfactory series of partial recounts; his intervention was a gift, allowing Mugabe to pose as the champion of his people in the face of post-colonial oppression. Mugabe is 78 and does not need to think about long-term consequences. What he clearly does not intend – and this is a potent reason for dying in office – is to find himself facing the kind of tribunal hearing the case against Slobodan Milosevic .

The failure of the international community to deal with Mugabe is symptomatic of a larger problem: the leaders of democratic nations have yet to come up with a consistent policy towards rogue and failed states. They have been ready to overlook gross abuses of human rights and presided over arms sales to some of the nastiest regimes. Their strictures will not be taken seriously by a suspicious non-Western world until they abandon their double standards.

Religion plus misogyny equals murder

On the subject of double standards, where is the outcry about Monday's tragedy in Saudi Arabia? The British government may privately deplore aspects of the Wahabbi regime, but it is reluctant to say much in public about our ghastly ally in the Gulf. Yet even the Saudi press, not noted for its criticism of public institutions, was moved to protest when 14 pupils burnt to death in a girls' school in Mecca. At first it seemed a case of too many pupils crammed into a building without fire escapes and alarms. But then the Arab News, based in Jeddah, produced an even more horrifying account of how the deaths came about.

The paper claimed that members of the mutawwa'in, the religious police, appeared at the main gate and prevented survivors escaping because they were not wearing Islamic dress. Eye-witnesses saw three people beating girls who had escaped from the school without the black cloaks and head coverings that are obligatory for Saudi women. A report by the civil defence department in Mecca stated that the mutawwa'in "intentionally obstructed the efforts to evacuate the girls". Misogyny, as I have argued for years, is sometimes lethal – never more so than when combined with militant religion.

Pro-lifers get it wrong

Anti-abortion campaigners got the go-ahead last week to show lurid pictures of aborted foetuses in party political broadcasts. The Court of Appeal overturned an earlier judgment which allowed broadcasters to refuse to show shocking photographs. The BBC responded with dismay. But I think the judges got it right, and not just because I support freedom of expression; I suspect that the effect of the ruling will be the opposite of what the Pro Life Alliance expects. It claimed that the judgment marked the beginning of the end of legalised abortion in Britain, which is wishful thinking on a grand scale. Resorting to such tactics is, on the contrary, an admission of how comprehensively the anti-abortionists have lost the argument. The photographs will almost certainly be of the result of late abortions, and the answer to that problem is to ensure that women get their operations earlier. But I don't imagine the Pro Life Alliance is going to be campaigning for that, and most viewers will see through their scare tactics.

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Studying the plans for Liza Minnelli's fourth wedding, I was impressed by the present list. You may not be able to put a price on love, but the 811 items don't exactly come cheap, from the napkin rings (16 at £183 each) to the £3,900 Lalique vase. All in all, the list adds up to £250,000. Is this what people mean by family values?

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