result sparks global ire
came under mounting pressure Saturday after the long-delayed
result of a contentious presidential poll showed Morgan
Tsvangirai trouncing Robert Mugabe but falling short of an
As Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) rejected
the official result showing their leader winning 47.9 percent
against Mugabe’s 43.2 percent, world capitals called for a
credible run-off and an halt to poll violence.
The European Commission spokeswoman underscored the need for
“free and fair second round that is conducted in a proper
“We are therefore calling for international observers from the
moment this process starts,” she told AFP.
Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier called the results of
the March 29 presidential vote “contested,” and said Tsvangirai
had “a clear lead” over Mugabe, in power since 1980 when
Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain.
Zimbabwe’s electoral commission on Friday said in the absence of
an absolute majority by Tsvangirai, there should be a run-off on
a date yet to be announced.
In Washington, a State Department spokesman said the results had
“rather serious credibility problems” and doubted a run-off
would be free and fair.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Mugabe had
“clearly lost,” adding: “His campaign of violence and
intimidation over the last month must stop immediately.”
US-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch echoed the call.
“Since the elections, the ruling ZANU-PF party, the army and
so-called war veterans have conducted a brutal state-sponsored
campaign of violence, torture and intimidation against MDC
activists and supporters,” it said.
“The long delay in announcing the results of the presidential
elections and the government’s politically motivated arrests of
more than 100 presiding election officers around the country
raises serious questions about the official tally.”
The MDC’s number two, Tendai Biti, said the electoral
commission, whose leaders are appointed by the president, had
inflated the number of votes for Mugabe by 47,000 and deflated
those for Tsvangirai by 50,000.
“Morgan Tsvangirai is the president of the republic of Zimbabwe
to the extent that he won the highest number of votes,” he said,
adding: “Morgan Tsvangirai has to be declared the president of
Under the terms of the Zimbabwean constitution, Mugabe would be
declared the automatic winner if Tsvangirai refused to take part
in a second round.
A senior Mugabe aide meanwhile accused the commission of
deflating the figures for the incumbent but said the
octogenarian leader would contest a run-off.
Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party is challenging another 52 results from
elections in which it lost control of parliament for the first
time since 1980.
Mugabe has remained silent on the outcome of the presidential
vote, but his control of the security apparatus has led the MDC
to conclude that he will seek to intimidate voters into giving
him a sixth term.
But the hero of the 1970s war against white minority rule has
found himself increasingly isolated since election day with an
international outcry over an upsurge in violence.
No Western observers were allowed to oversee the ballot and a
team from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) was
widely criticised for giving it a largely clean bill of health.
However in a report released Friday after a follow-up mission to
monitor a recent partial recount, SADC expressed alarm at rising
levels of violence that the MDC claims has left 20 of its
Meanwhile South African President Thabo Mbeki, a continental
heavyweight who has been trying to defuse the political and
economic crises in Zimbabwe, told religious leaders in Pretoria
that he will send a mission to probe political violence in
Zimbabwe, the SAPA news agency reported.
“He assured us that he would do everything to ensure that a
second round of the run-off election happens in an atmosphere of
peace,” Nyansako Ni-Nku, head of the All-Africa Conference of
Churches, was quoted as saying.
“In order to achieve that, the president said that right away
they will despatch a team to check every allegation of
violence,” he said.
A one-time regional model, Zimbabwe now has the world’s highest
rate of inflation at 165,000 percent. Unemployment stands at
over 80 percent, basic foodstuffs are scarce and life expectancy
has dropped to 36 years.
US religious rights panel wants Vietnam,
WASHINGTON, (AFP) – A US religious freedom watchdog on
Friday asked the State Department to include Vietnam, Pakistan
and Turkmenistan in its global blacklist of religious freedom
violators, and maintained Indonesia, the world’s most populous
Muslim nation, on a watchlist.
In its recommendation to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,
the US Commission on International Religious Freedom also wanted
Myanmar, China and North Korea to be kept in the department’s
“country of particular concern” blacklist together with Iran,
Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Eritrea and Uzbekistan.
The independent commission, set up by US law to monitor
religious freedom across the globe, also maintained Afghanistan
and Bangladesh in its watchlist together with Belarus, Cuba,
Egypt and Nigeria.
The 10-member panel was divided whether to downgrade
predominantly-Muslim Iraq, where widespread persecution of
Christians has been reported, to the blacklist from the
watchlist, saying it needed more time to make the decision.
The commission makes an annual recommendation to the State
Department ahead of its compilation of its annual report on
international religious freedom.
The panel wanted Vietnam to be reincluded in the department’s
blacklist, saying the government continued to imprison and
detain dozens of individuals advocating for religious freedom
reforms in the communist-led state.
Vietnam was removed from the list in November 2006 on the eve of
a visit by US President George W. Bush to the former battlefield
The State Department admitted Friday that there were still “a
number of issues” on religious freedom in Vietnam.
But “the actions that the Vietnamese government has taken to
address some of our concerns makes them a country that does not
merit being included on the CPC or the countries of particular
concern list,” said Tom Casey, a department spokesman.
Commission member Leonard Leo said the panel’s view differed
from that of the department.
“We continue to find that lifting the CPC designation for
Vietnam was premature,” he told a news conference.
Ethnic minority Buddhists and Protestants in Vietnam “are often
harassed, beaten, detained, arrested and discriminated against
and they continue to face some efforts to coerce renunciation of
faith,” the report said.
Commission members traveled to Vietnam last fall and were able
to meet individuals detained under house arrest or in prison,
such as Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do, and Catholic priests Phan
Van Loi, Nguyen Van Dai and Li Thi Cong Nhan.
In Pakistan, the commission said it did not see major
improvements in religious freedom even though the country had
gone through a democratic transition following landmark
“Despite the dramatic events in Pakistan in the past year, the
commission finds that all of the serious religious freedom
concerns, including violence, on which it has previously
The panel said concerns over Indonesia remained, citing communal
violence and the government’s “inability or unwillingness to
curb it” as well as what it called the forcible closures of
places of worship of religious minorities.
It also referred to growing political power and influence of
religious extremists “who harass and sometimes instigate
violence” against moderate Muslim leaders and members of
“There are persistent fears that Indonesia’s commitment to
secular governance, ethnic and religious pluralism, and a
culture of tolerance will be eroded by some who promote
extremist interpretations of Islam,” it said.
British peace experts to help Philippine
MANILA (AFP) - Britain will send experts in peace
negotiations to the Philippines to help re-start stalled peace
talks between Manila and Muslim separatist guerrillas in the
south, diplomats said Saturday.
Experts who were involved in the peace talks in Northern Ireland
will consulted over contact between the Philippines government
and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said
British ambassador Peter Beckingham.
Beckingham said the experts would not be involved in the actual
negotiations but would instead “talk with the government and the
MILF and try and get ways in which the peace process can move
along in the right direction.”
“The MILF and the Philippine government said they’d welcome
someone who could talk about what happened in Northern Ireland
and because there are similarities,” he added.
The plan which will see three or four experts dispatched to this
country in the coming weeks, he said.
Beckingham said Philippine President Gloria Arroyo and
then-British prime minister Tony Blair first agreed to the
scheme when they met last December.
Beckingham said he met with MILF leaders a few weeks ago and
they were also in favour of the idea.
The 12,000-strong MILF has been fighting to set up a separate
Islamic state in the southern third of the largely-Christian
Philippines since 1978.
The Philippines and the MILF signed a ceasefire in 2003 to open
peace negotiations but the talks have been stalled over the
issue of “ancestral domain” where the MILF would exert
In the latest blow to the talks, last month, Malaysia, which had
been hosting the negotiations, announced that it was pulling out
a team that had been monitoring the ceasefire in the south.
Just days ago, Muslim gunmen, including MILF fighters, forced
hundreds of Christians to abandon their farms in the south,
saying this was part of their ancestral lands.
Cuba lifts ban on home computers
first legalised home computers have gone on sale in Cuba, but a
ban remains on internet access.
This is the latest in a series of restrictions on daily life
which President Raul Castro has lifted in recent weeks.
Crowds formed at the Carlos III shopping centre in Havana,
though most had come just to look.
The desktop computers cost almost $800 (£400), in a country
where the average wage is under $20 (£10) a month.
But some Cubans do have access to extra income, much of it from
money sent by relatives living abroad.
Since taking over the presidency in February, Raul Castro has
ended a range of restrictions and allowed Cubans access to
previously banned consumer goods.
In recent weeks thousands of Cubans have snapped up mobile
phones and DVD players.
But only now have the first computer stocks arrived.
Internet access remains restricted to certain workplaces,
schools and universities on the island.
The government says it is unable to connect to the giant
undersea fibre-optic cables because of the US trade embargo. All
online connections today are via satellite which has limited
bandwidth and is expensive to use.
Cuba’s anti-American ally, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, is
laying a new cable under the Caribbean.
It remains unclear whether, once the connection is completed,
the authorities will then allow unrestricted access to the world
wide web. (BBC)
Russia says Iranian enrichment freeze is
MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia on Saturday said that world
powers concerned about Iran’s nuclear programme were asking
Tehran only to suspend uranium enrichment during a period of
Following a meeting on Iran in London of the five permanent
members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany,
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said no mention had been made of
new sanctions and that Tehran must be made to see the advantages
“Our first conditions are the freezing, suspension of uranium
enrichment. The approach of the six (powers) is that Iran should
suspend enrichment only for the period in which talks continue,”
Lavrov told the Interfax and ITAR-TASS news agencies.
“There wasn’t anything about new sanctions although our American
colleagues take the view that pressure on Iran must be
“It’s necessary to explain to Iran the advantages it would
receive from agreeing to start talks, on the basis of one
condition -- the freezing of uranium enrichment,” Lavrov said.
Western powers fear Tehran wants to use its nuclear programme to
make atomic weapons but the Islamic republic insists the drive
is peaceful and solely aimed at providing energy for a growing
The six have been using a mix of incentives and sanctions to try
to persuade Iran to rein in its nuclear work.
Following Friday’s talks in London, British Foreign Secretary
David Miliband said the powers had “reviewed and updated” an
offer made to Iran in June 2006, but that the contents of the
new proposal would only be disclosed to the Islamic republic.
The proposals are in the areas of energy, trade and investment
and regional security, Lavrov said.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Friday the
proposals were more “precise and detailed” than before.
The six powers have offered technical, political and economic
rewards to Tehran for suspending its nuclear programme.
At the same time, the UN Security Council has adopted three
resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran for its refusal to
suspend its uranium enrichment activities.
Russia has relatively close ties to Iran despite historical
tensions and has generally taken a softer approach on the
sanctions issue than the United States.
Russia has coordinated its position with neighbouring China, a
fellow UN Security Council member.
Analysts say Moscow is keen to keep a check on Iranian influence
in mainly Muslim southern Russia and in the ex-Soviet states of
Central Asia, but has mainly done so through “soft” diplomacy.
Russia is building Iran’s first nuclear power station at Bushehr
under a deal by which Moscow has supplied enriched uranium and
will remove the fuel after use.
Deliveries of the enriched fuel were started last December and
completed in January under a process designed to persuade Iran
that it has no need to enrich fuel itself.
Saudi sheikh bans alcohol at Cairo Grand
CAIRO (AFP) - A luxury Cairo hotel has stopped the
sale of alcoholic drinks on the orders of its Saudi Arabian
owner, who is a practising Muslim, the assistant manager said on
Owner Sheikh Abdel Aziz Ibrahim bin Ibrahim visited the
five-star Grand Hyatt Cairo on Saturday and ordered all alcohol
stocks be destroyed and banned its sale to conform with Islamic
law, which forbids alcohol consumption.
No alcohol has been sold since the start of the week, assistant
manager Nivine Sami told AFP.
“But the decision has not definitively been made yet.
Discussions on this subject are ongoing between the hotel chain
and the owner,” she added.
A tourist official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the
hotel could be stripped of three stars if it continued to not
serve alcohol, as three-, four- and five-star hotels were
obliged to serve alcoholic drinks.