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Zimbabwe Crisis Deepens 

The international community has condemned Zimbabwe and its President Robert Mugabe over last month’s brutal beatings of dozens of political opponents. But at last week’s summit in Tanzania of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the regional leaders appeared to put little pressure on Mr. Mugabe. Analysts say that, after 27 years in power, he seems stronger than ever. Furthermore, the ruling ZANU-PF party has endorsed the 83-year-old president to run for another term, beginning in 2008.

Once considered the breadbasket of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe has become an economic basket case. Inflation has reached a staggering 1700%, 80% of adults are unemployed, and food and fuel are scarce. Laws have been passed that restrict freedom of the press, forbid foreign journalists from entering the country, and ban political gatherings for three months. Refugees are streaming out of Zimbabwe to neighboring countries. VOA Johannesburg correspondent Scott Bobb says that, despite widespread discontent and earnest attempts to challenge President Mugabe, the “way the political system is currently organized,” he would be re-elected. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Scott Bobb notes that, according to “sources and former insiders,” there are political factions within the ruling party and a “jockeying for position to succeed him.”

Regarding the recent SADC summit in Tanzania, Scott Bobb reports that the Southern African leaders were “polite but straightforward” with Mr. Mugabe, privately telling him he must stop the violence and talk to the opposition. But Zimbabwean journalist Peta Thornycroft of Britain’s Daily Telegraph calls the meeting unfortunate because the SADC leaders did not “find a mechanism with which to convey some concern or disapproval of the very public human rights abuses in Harare in the last three weeks.” Richard Cockett, Africa editor of the Economist magazine, agrees that their public response was disappointing, especially in view of the ruling party’s endorsement of President Mugabe as their candidate in next year’s election. And he adds, it was a bad week “for those wishing to get rid of Mr. Mugabe sooner rather than later.”

Despite Mr. Mugabe’s apparent victories, Peta Thornycroft calls the situation in Zimbabwe “fluid.” Earlier this week the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions tried, but failed, to organize an effective strike to protest the desperate conditions. Even among members of the ruling ZANU-PF party, she says, there are “many opinions” about whether Mr. Mugabe should run for re-election. But, she adds that only time will tell whether or not any of those officials will “actually be brave enough to stand up to him.”

Richard Cockett says this is where regional leaders have a “huge role to play.” Unless the opposition - either in Mr. Mugabe’s own party or in the formal political opposition, led by Morgan Tsvangirai – knows it has the backing of regional leaders, it will be “very hard for them to move.” For a palace coup to happen, Mr. Cockett adds, it needs their “moral endorsement,” and that is not forthcoming at the moment.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.