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Ghana's Kufuor Expresses Dismay Over Zimbabwe Violence

Ghanaian President John Kufuor, who holds the rotating African Union chairmanship, has called the turmoil in Zimbabwe "very embarrassing" and says the AU was doing all it could to help the embattled country. Mr. Kufuor made his comment Wednesday, in London, during a state visit to Britain. Tendai Maphosa has more from London for VOA.

President Kufuor told an audience at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London that while the political situation in his country may be improving, a lack of respect for human rights is still the reality for some African countries, in particular Zimbabwe.

The violence in Zimbabwe has drawn new attention to the deteriorating situation in the southern African country, where an increasingly autocratic President Robert Mugabe is blamed by opponents for repression, corruption, acute food shortages and inflation of 1,700 percent - the highest in the world.

Neighboring African countries have drawn criticism from the international community for not doing enough to stem the oppression of the government of President Robert Mugabe.

In comments to the BBC this week, the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell, expressed disappointment at what he called the passivity of neighboring states, including South Africa, in the face of the suffering of Zimbabweans.

But Mr. Kufuor defended how the leaders of Nigeria, South Africa and other African countries have responded to the crisis.

"The African Union is very uncomfortable," he said. "I know personally that presidents like [Olusegun] Obasanjo and [Thabo] Mbeki and others have tried desperately to exercise some influence for the better, but they came up against stiff resistance. What can Mbeki, as a man alone do against Zimbabwe? In our own various ways we are trying to exercise some influence. I tell you we are serious."

On Thursday, it appeared one African nation was taking action. Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete flew to Harare to hold talks with President Mugabe, according to the presidential office in Tanzania. Officials said Kikwete, a respected diplomat and peacemaker, was hoping to cool tensions in Zimbabwe. Tanzania is one of three Southern African nations appointed by a regional bloc to try to help calm the turmoil in Zimbabwe.

But protesters, who interrupted Mr. Kufuor's speech in London on several occasions, were adamant that more needed to be done to loosen Mr. Mugabe's grip on power.

Among the protesters was Brilliant Pongo.

"We expect them to come out more openly and condemn what is happening in Zimbabwe," he said. "There's been a lot of quiet diplomacy going on behind the scenes. They keep saying they are doing a lot of work behind the scenes. We have not seen the fruits of that work. This is why we are coming out here to express our disgust and anger at the situation in Zimbabwe."

The demonstrators in London echoed the beliefs of many Zimbabweans still living in the country. They say that while their country, which gained independence in 1980, is free from colonial rule, they are not truly free, since President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since independence, continues to deny his people basic human rights.