, HARARE, July 9 – Robert Mugabe’s regime Wednesday branded G8 leaders’ threat of more sanctions "international racism" and a bid to force out the Zimbabwe president following his widely condemned one-man election.
After Group of Eight industrial powers meeting in Japan rejected the legitimacy of Mugabe’s government and promised action against his regime, Zimbabwe’s information minister said the move defied the people’s will.
"For them to say that Zimbabwe’s government and President Mugabe’s election are not legitimate is an attempt to impose a government on the people of Zimbabwe against their will," Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told the state-run Herald newspaper.
"This is international racism," he added.
G8 leaders wrangled intensely over how to send Mugabe a strong message, resulting in Russia succumbing to pressure from France, Germany, Britain and the United States to agree to imposing targeted measures.
"We do not accept the legitimacy of any government that does not reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people," G8 leaders said in a statement Tuesday at their summit.
"We will take further steps, inter alia introducing financial and other measures against those individuals responsible for the violence."
Debate over sanctions will now shift to the UN Security Council, and the United States said it was confident new measures would be adopted this week despite objections from South Africa and Russia.
The proposed sanctions include a travel ban and an assets freeze on Mugabe and 13 of his cronies as well as an arms embargo on the Harare regime.
In a sign that tough negotiations lie ahead, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said elements of the US draft were "quite excessive" and clearly "in conflict with the notion of sovereignty" of a UN member state.
He also questioned whether the crisis spawned by Zimbabwe’s June 27 election boycotted by the opposition due to rising violence amounted to a threat to international peace.
Churkin further said the statement from G8 leaders did not use the word sanctions.
Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the presidential run-off five days before the poll, saying dozens of his supporters had been killed and thousands injured by Mugabe thugs.
He finished ahead of Mugabe in the March 29 first round, but with an official vote total short of an outright majority.
African Union leaders have called for dialogue between Zimbabwe’s political parties and the formation of a national unity government.
Tsvangirai has dismissed unity government calls and wants a transitional arrangement that would lead to fresh elections, while Mugabe has said he must be accepted as president before any talks.
Despite their huge differences, there were signals Wednesday that negotiations were to begin soon, with the opposition’s number two leader Tendai Biti asking a court to ease his bail conditions on treason charges so he can attend talks in South Africa.
Prosecutors said in their court filing on Biti’s request, which states they were not opposed to temporarily lifting bail conditions, that talks had been set to begin on Wednesday. Biti is also the opposition’s chief negotiatorr
The high court was expected to decide on the matter later Wednesday.
The G8 leaders’ call for sanctions was likely to be seen as a further criticism of South African President Thabo Mbeki’s mediation in Zimbabwe.
Mbeki, who was among the African leaders to meet with G8 powers this week, has been criticised for his quiet diplomacy approach and South Africa has resisted calls for new sanctions on Harare.
There have been moves at the United Nations to appoint a special representative to assist in the mediation being led by Mbeki, who was appointed to his role by the 14-nation Southern African Development Community.
Diplomatic sources have said former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who helped broker a power-sharing agreement in Kenya last February, former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, Nigerian ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo and Ghanaian President John Kufuor were being considered for the mission.
Ndlovu, the information minister, said such moves were a "non-starter" and that "President Mbeki has proved his mettle as an African statesman par excellence".