South Africa rejects tough line on Zimbabwe

CAPE TOWN Tue May 29, 2007 8:50pm BST

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe in Harare, March 30, 2007. South Africa again rejected calls for tough action against Zimbabwe on Tuesday ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is expected to press the issue. REUTERS/Phimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe in Harare, March 30, 2007. South Africa again rejected calls for tough action against Zimbabwe on Tuesday ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is expected to press the issue.

Credit: Reuters/Phimon Bulawayo

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CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa again rejected calls for tough action against Zimbabwe on Tuesday ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is expected to press the issue.

Blair is scheduled to meet South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been mediating between President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition through quiet diplomacy.

Britain and other Western powers have accused Mugabe of widespread human rights abuses and mismanaging the economy.

Newspapers said Blair, who has urged African leaders to pressure Mugabe, might make another attempt to push Mbeki on Zimbabwe this week during a farewell trip to the continent.

South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in a speech to parliament on Tuesday that a hard line on Zimbabwe would only backfire.

"You must not push the country over the brink, you must pull it back from the brink. That is our approach," she said.

Mbeki, who successfully mediated in several conflicts on the African continent, has been criticised for being too soft on Mugabe and his increasingly authoritarian government.

South Africa wields considerable power by having Africa's biggest economy and is seen as setting an example on democracy after decades of apartheid.

Blair's efforts on Zimbabwe so far have earned him the wrath of Mugabe, who said in April he had beaten off any attempt by Blair to "get Zimbabwe to collapse".

Mugabe has remained defiant, despite growing political tensions and an economic freefall that has worsened with inflation now at more than 3,700 percent.

Dlamini-Zuma said countries should not take a "war approach" to Zimbabwe and pursue mediation.

Mugabe has rejected international mediation on Zimbabwe's political crisis and dismissed accusations that he has run down one of Africa's most promising countries and abused human rights in a bid to hang on to power.

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