Riot police patrol downtown Harare, Zimbabwe Wednesday April 9 2008. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, made an impassioned plea for the international community to persuade President Robert Mugabe to step down, even as electoral officials continued to delay releasing results of the March 29 elections. Independent tallies indicate Tsvangirai won the most votes, but not enough to avoid a runoff. The opposition fears Mugabe will use ruling party militants and the security forces to intimidate voters and rig runoff results as he has in previous elections. (AP Photo)
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) -- Zambia called an emergency summit of southern African leaders on the political crisis in Zimbabwe, where the opposition has accused President Robert Mugabe of withholding election results to cling to power.
With no resolution in sight 11 days after the election, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa said Wednesday that regional leaders would meet Saturday to coordinate their response to the crisis.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says he won the March 29 election outright and has asked Zimbabwe's High Court to force publication of the results. The court plans to rule Monday, lawyers for Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change and the Election Commission said.
The opposition claims Mugabe is delaying release of the results so he can orchestrate a runoff and give ruling party militants time to intimidate rural voters and ensure he does not lose a second vote.
Zambian Information Minister Mike Mulongoti said he was not sure if Mugabe would attend Saturday's summit of the Southern African Development Community. Zambia's president, who currently heads the group, said the meeting will work to adopt a coordinated regional strategy on Zimbabwe, Zambian state radio reported.
Tsvangirai embarked on a trip around the region Wednesday in hopes that neighboring leaders could persuade Mugabe to release the results. He met with Botswana President Seretse Ian Khama and hoped to travel to four or five other countries before Saturday, opposition officials said.
Tendai Biti, the secretary-general of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, said regional leaders at the summit should push for Mugabe to resign.
"We have won this election. We will not participate in a runoff because we won the election," he said.
Still, Tsvangirai made a possible overture toward the ruling party, telling South African radio that he wanted a government that would "create space for everyone." But Mugabe must step down after 28 years in power, he said.
"I think it's time for him to take his retirement," Tsvangirai said from Botswana.
Pressure mounted on Mugabe's government to release the results, with Australia joining appeals from Britain, the former colonial ruler, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union.
"There is simply no excuse for them being withheld more than a week after the poll," Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said in a statement.
Jacob Zuma, leader of South Africa's governing African National Congress, repeated earlier entreaties that "results be announced as a matter of urgency," spokeswoman Jessie Duarte said.
African leaders, however, have deferred to South African President Thabo Mbeki on dealing with Zimbabwe. Mbeki has said that his strategy of "quiet diplomacy" has the best chance of resolving the crisis.
Simba Makoni, a former Zimbabwean finance minister who won less than 10 percent of the presidential vote according to independent tallies, said he was baffled by the delay.
He said he went to the election commission several days ago asking to see where the vote verification was taking place and was denied permission. The commission has since closed its offices, and when Makoni asked for the new location, he was again rebuffed.
The U.S.-based National Democratic Institute said a staff member detained by Zimbabwean authorities last week was released Wednesday. Dileepan Sivapathasundaram, a U.S. citizen who had been working with local groups monitoring election monitors, left the country after he was let go, the nonprofit group said in a statement.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, chairwoman of the group's board of directors, said in the statement that Sivapathasundaram was released unharmed, but his "illegal detention was another indication of the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe."
Zimbabwe's commercial farmers union said ruling party supporters had forced dozens of white farmers off their land. Such seizures started in 2000 as Mugabe's response his defeat in a referendum designed to entrench his powers.
The farmers warned that continued chaos could endanger the wheat crop, vital to a nation that has grown deeply dependent on food aid during a spiraling economic crisis.
"The planting for wheat will be in a few weeks time, and if it is not in, we'll go starving again," said the group's spokesman, Mike Clark.