Africa Bloc Seen Shifting Against Zimbabwe After Clampdown

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - The head of the African Union has for the first time in the bloc's history broken its "see no evil" policy with regard to Zimbabwe -- a sign that the continent's leaders are losing patience with President Robert Mugabe's regime.

The A.U. said armed attacks on opposition (Movement for Democratic Change) leaders and supporters in the capital, Harare, earlier this week were an embarrassment to the continent.

State security agents attacked and detained MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and some of his supporters. Tsvangirai reportedly suffered head and other injuries during the assault.

Washington termed the recent incidents "ruthless and repressive." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Mugabe would be held responsible for the safety of opposition supporters, and called for "the immediate and unconditional release of those individuals detained by the government."

The British government also condemned the incident and called on the European Union to increase sanctions against the Zimbabwean leadership. The E.U. had already imposed travel restrictions and an assets freeze on leaders.

John Kufour, the president of Ghana and the chairman of the A.U., told reporters in London that Africans were embarrassed by what was happening in Harare.

He said African leaders should collectively help the country out of its political and economic crisis.

African governments have in the past been generally silent on human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, despite glaring evidence of a severe deterioration in the country's political and socio-economic situation.

Under Mugabe's controversial land-redistribution programs, successful white-owned commercial farms have been seized and given to blacks who often lacked the experience and resources to make the land productive. Many of those benefiting from the redistribution have been loyal Mugabe supporters.

The small country of some 12 million people used to be seen as a regional "breadbasket" but critics say government policies - human rights abuses, election rigging and economic mismanagement - have resulted in 70-80 percent unemployment and soaring inflation.

A former British colony, Zimbabwe won independence from Britain in 1980. Mugabe, who turned 83 last month, has ruled since then and recently announced that he will be seeking re-election when his current term expirees in 2008.

In South Africa, a country seen as the closest ally to Zimbabwe because of their mutual history of minority white rule, church leaders said the Pretoria government is not doing enough to help bring sanity to its northern neighbor.

"The silence of the South African government is aggravating the situation," the South African Council of Churches said in a statement. "Our leaders must show that they are committed to helping the people of Zimbabwe to find rapid solutions to the many problems confronting them."

In Nairobi, Bob Ombae of the Network for Human Rights Campaigners said the attacks showed that Mugabe still does not understand that he will have to answer for crimes being committed under his rule.

"He forgets that the International Criminal Court is getting stronger," he said. "The man may be setting up himself for a very painful retirement."

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