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U.N. response split as Zimbabwe delays ballot results again

Times Staff Writer

A leader of Zimbabwe’s opposition party Tuesday demanded that the Security Council intervene in the country’s electoral crisis and press President Robert Mugabe to step down.

But the council was split on how to respond, as Zimbabwe’s government postponed the announcement of presidential poll results again, heightening tensions in the southern African country.

Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, which won the most seats in the March 29 parliamentary election and claims its candidate defeated Mugabe in the presidential vote, told the Security Council that Zimbabwe was in a humanitarian crisis. The government is depriving opposition supporters of food, and inflation is expected to reach 1,000,000% by August, he said.

“It is urgent and critical that President Mugabe be asked to step down,” Biti said.

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The U.S., Britain and France supported Biti’s request for a U.N. special envoy and called for a voluntary arms embargo. But South Africa said regional leaders were addressing the poll dispute. Six other Security Council members -- China, Russia, Libya, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica and Vietnam -- agreed that the crisis did not merit international intervention unless Zimbabwe asked for it.

Zimbabwe’s U.N. ambassador, Boniface Chidyausiku, told The Times that Mugabe was willing to consider a coalition government. “The nation is divided, so whoever comes in as president has to look into uniting the nation,” he said.

In Zimbabwe on Tuesday, almost 200 opposition supporters arrested last week in a raid on MDC headquarters in the capital, Harare, were released without being charged.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission again delayed the announcement of preliminary results in the presidential balloting that were expected Tuesday, saying they would be shown to both leading parties starting Thursday. Then a verification process could take a week or longer before final results are announced.

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MDC candidate Morgan Tsvangirai says he won the election outright, based on tallies of preliminary results posted on election day.

In Washington, President Bush said at a news conference, “The will of the people needs to be respected in Zimbabwe, and it is clear that they voted for change, as they should have, because Mr. Mugabe has failed the country.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a food summit in Geneva that it was “just unacceptable” that the election results had not been released a month after the vote. “We know who is the winner,” he added, referring to Tsvangirai.

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maggie.farley@latimes.com

Times staff writer Robyn Dixon in Johannesburg, South Africa, contributed to this report.


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