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Bush: Mugabe Has Ruined Zimbabwe

President Bush says he is disappointed that South African mediation has failed to ease Zimbabwe's political divisions. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, Mr. Bush spoke to radio reporters on the eve of his second trip to Africa.

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

Mr. Mugabe is now looking to extend his 28 years in office in elections next month. 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.

President Bush says the United States will continue to support freedom in Zimbabwe, denouncing Mr. Mugabe as a "discredited dictator" who has brought misery to his people.

During a White House interview with radio reporters, Mr. Bush was asked by VOA about Zimbabwe's rapid economic decline.

"Zimbabwe used to be a net exporter of food," he said. "Today it is a net importer of food. Mr. Mugabe has ruined a country."

Zimbabwe's official inflation rate, already the world's highest, has now 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.

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.

Stephen Morrison is co-director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a private policy research group in Washington. He says President Bush's decision to enlist the aid of the South African leader has failed to change Zimbabwean politics.

"In '03, there was the handoff to Mbeki on Zimbabwe at the very close of the trip, and of course now we're approaching the countdown towards the March elections, and what that will mean, and of course [what] Mbeki's achieved - as we can tell right now – [he] has achieved nothing in terms of getting resolution of that," he said.

President Bush told radio reporters that he is disappointed that the situation in Zimbabwe has gotten worse since his first visit to Africa.

"I was hoping that the South African government would have been more pro-active in its intercession to help the people of Zimbabwe," he added. "It's not anti-anybody. It's pro-people. And that has yet to happen."

The president is scheduled to leave for Africa Friday with stops in Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Liberia, and Ghana.