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US Urges Firm Stand on Zimbabwe at Regional Summit

The United States Friday urged southern African countries to take a firm stand for democracy in Zimbabwe at a weekend summit meeting in Zambia. The State Department said there are credible reports of violence and intimidation against opposition supporters in Zimbabwe's political crisis. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Bush administration has been openly critical of southern African states for failing to use their leverage with President Robert Mugabe in past political crises in Zimbabwe.

It is now urging the member countries of SADC - the Southern African Development Community - to take a firm stand for democracy when leaders of the regional grouping convene Saturday on Zimbabwe in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.

Briefing reporters,State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said it remains to be seen what the summit will yield but said it is in the interest of the SADC countries and the region to act on behalf of the Zimbabwean people.

"Each state and each group is going to have to, according to their own views and the views of their own leverage and capabilities act. We believe that the SADC does have leverage with Zimbabwe, and that they can use that leverage to positive effect on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe, who sadly have suffered from the way that President Mugabe has decided to rule. The economy is wrecked, and he has made a shambles of democracy in Zimbabwe," he said.

McCormack renewed the U.S. call on Zimbabwe's electoral commission to release results from the country's presidential election, and not wait for a court ruling in a lawsuit filed by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to get the official figures.

In the parliamentary vote March 29th, the MDC wrested control from President Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party for the first time.

In the presidential vote MDC candidate Morgan Tsvangerai maintains he won an outright majority, and is refusing to take part in a run-off with Mr. Mugabe.

The lack of presidential results has led to rising political tensions in Harare, where the government has banned rallies and the opposition is calling for a general strike.

Spokesman McCormack said the U.S. embassy in Harare has seen credible reports of violence and intimidation being used against opposition supporters, reminiscent of past tactics by Mr. Mugabe's forces.

He called the reports quite disturbing and said it is crucially important that there be no further delay in the election results.