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Bush Calls for Fair Elections in Zimbabwe

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President Bush says there should be free and fair elections in Zimbabwe next month. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from Dar es Salaam, Mr. Bush discussed the issue Sunday with the new head of the African Union, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

During their talks at Dar es Salaam's State House, President Bush and President Kikwete discussed next month's elections in Zimbabwe, where long-time President Robert Mugabe is facing a divided opposition.

In remarks before this trip to Africa, Mr. Bush denounced Mr. Mugabe as a discredited dictator who has brought nightmarish misery to his people by mismanaging the economy and repressing political dissent.

In a joint press conference with the Tanzanian leader Sunday, the president said Zimbabweans deserve better.

"There is no doubt the people of Zimbabwe deserve a government that serves their interest and recognizes their basic human rights and holds free and fair elections," said Bush. "That is in the interest of the people of Zimbabwe. It happens to be in the interest of the world as well."

Zimbabwe's official inflation rate, already the world's highest, has risen to more than 66,000 percent. Price controls introduced last June have had little effect in a country with chronic food and fuel shortages and an unemployment rate of about 80 percent.

Zimbabwe was a big issue during the president's first trip to Africa five years ago. At the time, Mr. Bush embraced South African President Thabo Mbeki as an honest broker in the political stand-off between President Mugabe and opponents in Zimbabwe's pro-democracy movement.

President Bush now says he is disappointed that South Africa has not been more pro-active in resolving the political and economic crisis in its northern neighbor.

Zimbabwe's main opposition leader says the South African president should show some courage and abandon his policy of quiet support for President Mugabe.

South Africa's Deputy Foreign Minister says the fact that Zimbabweans are preparing for elections next months is proof that President Mbeki's mediation efforts have been productive.

President Mugabe is looking to extend his 28 years in power. The opposition has failed to come together in a unified campaign. Mr. Mugabe's most serious challenger, Simba Makoni, is a former member of his own party.

Critics blame President Mugabe for economic mismanagement and the poorly handled seizure of white-owned commercial farms. Mr. Mugabe blames sabotage by Western governments led by Britain.

 

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