SHARM EL-SHEIKH, July 1 – Robert Mugabe’s spokesman told the West on Tuesday it can "go hang a thousand times" over its criticism of the Zimbabwean president’s widely discredited reelection which has seen Washington push for UN sanctions.
"They can go and hang a thousand times, they have no basis, they have no claim on Zimbabwe politics at all," spokesman George Charamba said in answer to a question about Western criticism of Mugabe’s violence-marred election.
The 53-member African Union was holding closed door talks on the final day of a summit in Egypt amid intensifying pressure for the continent’s leaders to act to resolve the crisis which some fear could destabilise southern Africa.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pledged to work to broker a solution, repeating his view that the violence-marred election that gave veteran leader Mugabe another term lacked legitimacy.
Zimbabweans should be able to "enjoy genuine freedom" so they can "choose their leaders out of their own will without being intimidated," Ban said. "You have my full commitment that I will spare no efforts to work out a solution."
Ban cited the example of Kenya, where former UN chief Kofi Annan brokered a power-sharing deal that ended weeks of bloodshed after a disputed election in December.
Some African leaders have demanded tough action against Mugabe. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga called for his suspension from the African Union until he allows a free and fair election.
But Charamba dismissed Odinga’s criticism, saying his "hands drip with blood, raw African blood, and that blood is not going to be cleansed by any amount of abuse of Zimbabwe."
He said that Mugabe’s right to be president "derives from the Zimbabwe people as expressed through this June election. Anything else is immaterial and we don’t give a damn."
Mugabe , 84, was sworn in for a sixth term after being declared the winner of Friday’s election runoff with more than 85 percent of the vote in a race boycotted by opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai because of deadly violence and voter intimidation.
He said that criticism of violence during the election was simply "a Western perspective."
Amid South African-led efforts to mediate a way out of the crisis, Charamba said "there are two political parties in Zimbabwe that are prepared to discuss — we are talking about a ruling party that has offered dialogue to the opposition."
But "we are not promising (Tsvangirai) anything beyond what will emerge from the discussions."
Washington announced on Monday that it was preparing to present a draft sanctions resolution to the UN Security Council and urged African leaders to listen to their own election observers, warning the pan-African bloc’s credibility was at stake.
"The vote fell short of the African Union’s standards of democratic elections," the AU observers said in a statement issued in Harare on Monday.
But Charamba dismissed the criticism. "They did not say that violence was related to one side of a political equation, it was directed at all political players."
He said that any solution to the crisis will be "defined by the Zimbabwean people, free from outside interference and that is exactly what will resolve this matter."
The US ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad said he was preparing to circulate a draft sanctions resolution among Security Council members and was "cautiously optimistic" it would be approved.
"The United States is consulting with others to introduce a resolution perhaps this week to impose focused sanctions on the regime," he said.
US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the sanctions should impress upon Harare’s neighbours the need for urgent action at the regional level.
"We think that it is important that the African Union signal that a sham inauguration that was preceded by a sham election does not make the government legitimate," Casey said on Monday.
"We would certainly expect that the AU would call for a halt to the violence, a halt to this process and for Mugabe and others in his regime to engage some discussions with the AU, SADC (the 14-nation Southern African Development Community) and the UN to help achieve a political solution to the situation," the spokesman said.
Without making any reference to the United States, AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said on Monday that "sanctions are not the best tool that modern diplomacy has at its disposal."
With no consensus among the AU’s 53 member states on tough action against Mugabe, the bloc has focussed its efforts on pushing for a power-sharing arrangement between his ZANU-PF party and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change.