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Britain's Blair Says World Waiting, Wanting, Zimbabwe Reform

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged African governments to hold Zimbabwe to account and to do so urgently. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from Johannesburg that Mr Blair was speaking in Johannesburg on the final leg of his official farewell tour of the African continent.

Mr. Blair said that decades of repression in Zimbabwe have forced as many as one-third of Zimbabweans to leave their country for opportunities elsewhere. While he expressed support for the effort of South African President Thabo Mbeki regarding Zimbabwe, he reminded his host that time is fast running out.

"Now I welcome the determination of the countries of southern Africa to tackle Zimbabwe's problems through the SADC [Southern African Development Community] and President Mbeki's leadership to bring the two countries leadership together. The world is waiting, wanting to engage with a reforming Zimbabwe government," he said. "We support therefore SADC's efforts to develop a clear plan but for the people of Zimbabwe this is urgent and change before the 2008 elections essential."

Mr. Blair had strong words for Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir over the crisis in Darfur, where some 200,000 people have been killed and millions are now dependent on food aid.

"I believe it is wrong that President Bashir, intent, I'm afraid, on bombing his way to a solution, is determined to obstruct any effort made to reinforce the Africa Union's inability to improve security and stability," he added.

Under Mr. Blair's leadership, the British government has expanded its programs in Africa, and the British leader has excellent relations with many African leaders. He urged other western governments to do more for Africa, saying that the time has past for international politics to be defined by narrow, traditional national interests.

"I believe that now, today, our self interest is in substantial part defined by the well being of others," he said. "The consequence of globalization is that our best chance of security and prosperity lies in advancing freedom, opportunity and justice for all."

"It follows that where oppression, poverty and injustice exist, it is not only our duty but also in our self interest to do what we can to bring about change for the better," continued Mr. Blair. "And I believe that nowhere is that clearer than here in Africa."

But Mr. Blair said African countries must respond equally, and meet their own commitments to strengthen their democracies, deliver essential services to their people, and work harder to eradicate corruption.

After his speech, Mr. Blair met with South African elder statesman Nelson Mandela, who welcomed the British leader warmly and described him a true friend of Africa. On Friday, Mr. Blair will meet with President Mbeki, before leaving the continent.