Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama today called for tougher international action and tighter US sanctions against Zimbabwe, and chided the South African government for not doing enough to resolve the political crisis in the neighboring country.
In a statement, Obama said he welcomed the UN Security Council’s resolution yesterday declaring that government-fostered violence in Zimbabwe has made it impossible for a fair presidential runoff election to take place as scheduled on Sunday. The opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who won the first round in March, has pulled out of the runoff vote against incumbent Robert Mugabe, saying that the violence wracking Zimbabwe makes a legitimate second-round vote impossible.
In addition to criticizing Mugabe for the current wave of violence, Obama also took South Africa's government to task, saying that as a regional power it had not done enough to pressure Mugabe to allow free and fair elections to take place. South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki, has come under increasing international criticism for not pushing Mugabe harder to respect civil rights and stop the violence against political opponents.
Obama said he was heartened that some African leaders had spoken out forcefully, but added that “they need to do much more to help prevent the crisis in Zimbabwe from spiraling out of control. In particular, the South African government and the [ruling African National Congress party] must recognize the need – and must call for – the kind of diplomatic action that is necessary to pressure the Zimbabwean government to stop its repressive behavior.”
The presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, said in April as the crisis deepened that the international community, especially Zimbabwe's immediate neighbors, should demand that the first-round votes be counted and the result respected. McCain said then that the United States “should be prepared to provide assistance to support a transition to democracy in Zimbabwe."
Obama said yesterday he had spoken with Tsvangirai “to share my deep concern for the way his supporters are being targeted by the regime, and to express my admiration for his efforts to ensure that the will of the Zimbabwean people is finally respected.”
Obama said the United States should tighten its economic sanctions on Zimbabwe and should work with regional leaders for fresh elections monitored by a strong international observer presence. “If fresh elections prove impossible, regional leaders backed by the international community should pursue an enforceable, negotiated political transition in Zimbabwe that would end repressive rule and enable genuine democracy to take root.”
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.