Mugabe spits his defiance.

Pressure from Africa and abroad is piling up on Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe ahead of Friday's presidential run-off, reports the Sunday Times, Johannesburg.

But, ever-immune to criticism, the ageing dictator continued with his hardline rhetoric this week.

Addressing local business people in Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo, on Friday, Mugabe insisted he would not step aside for the Movement for Democratic Change, which beat his Zanu-PF party in the parliamentary and first-round presidential poll on March 29.

The MDC will never be allowed to rule this country — never ever, he declared.

Only God, who appointed me, will remove me — not the MDC, not the British. Only God will remove me!

Mugabe’s violent campaign to maintain his grip on power has led to the opposition MDC edging towards pulling out of the election.

His belligerence has also led to:

Several African countries, including some of Zimbabwe’s neighbours, finally breaking ranks to slam him;

A United Nations appeal to South Africa to act;

Election observers indicating it was unlikely the run-off would be declared free and fair; and

Western countries declaring that they were seriously considering charging Mugabe with war crimes.

Pressure was also being brought to bear on South Africa, with President Thabo Mbeki isolated in his unwavering support for Mugabe — even in his own cabinet.

Angola — a key ally of Zimbabwe — joined Tanzania, Kenya, Swaziland and Rwanda in slamming Mugabe’s violent crackdown this week. Botswana lodged a protest last week.

In a rare rebuke , Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos urged Mugabe in a letter to stop the violence and intimidation.

A senior Angolan official said Dos Santos had also appealed to his Zimbabwean counterpart to observe the spirit of tolerance and respect for difference and cease all forms of intimidation and political violence.

In turn, Rwandan President Paul Kagame accused Mugabe of turning the election into a farce. He blamed the Southern African Development Community and, by implication, its mediator, Mbeki, for failing to step in and do something.

The fact that the problems keep going on and even getting worse means that other people should step in. Starting with neighbours to Zimbabwe and the organisation in the Southern African subcontinent — in this case SADC — should primarily step in following the failures internally and do something, he said in a statement.

Percy Simelane, spokesman for the Swazi government, said it did not foresee free and fair elections if even the president himself is inciting violence.

Thomas Amolo, Kenya’s High Commissioner in South Africa, also called on Mugabe to respect the wishes of the people of Zimbabwe.

Having accepted a rerun, President Mugabe should ensure it is within … acceptable standards of elections and democratic practice. Anything less is an affront to the evolving democratic culture in Africa and unacceptable to all people living in Africa, he said.

Earlier in the week, the foreign minister of Tanzania, Bernard Membe — representing the SADC executive troika — said: There is every sign that these elections will never be free nor fair … There is a derailment of (MDC leader) Mr (Morgan) Tsvangirai. Wherever he goes to campaign, he’s detained at police stations.

Mbeki — who was mandated by SADC to resolve the crisis — faces unprecedented pressure to act.

Concerned about the violence rending Zimbabwe, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon sent a strongly worded message to Mbeki on Friday via his envoy Haile Menkerios.

Yves Sorokobi, a spokesman for Ban, said: I can’t divulge the specifics, but certainly the message conveys the very serious concerns from the whole UN family. It’s not just a political crisis, it’s a humanitarian crisis.

Ban’s action followed Mbeki’s reported failure to convince Mugabe to call off the elections — out of concern for post-election violence and the certainty of disputed results — or meet Tsvangirai to negotiate a settlement.

Mbeki is proposing that a government of national unity be put in place until credible elections can be held.

The US also ratcheted up the pressure on Mbeki. Declaring that the eyes of the world were on South Africa, Washington said it had noted a change in tone in Mbeki’s position.

I think the South African government has an increasing awareness that the eyes of the world are not only on Zimbabwe, but also on them, because they understand that … they’re uniquely positioned vis-a-vis President Mugabe to try to bring about some positive outcome from a very dire situation, US government spokesman Sean McCormack said. And we’ll see how they react to that, how they react to that attention.

Mbeki is also at odds with his own cabinet. Government insiders say cabinet ministers are frustrated that he is not speaking out against Mugabe and want him to stop appeasing and be more forthright with the Harare dictator.

Meanwhile, the MDC will meet today to decide whether to contest the run-off. A key official confirmed yesterday that there was now a greater chance than ever that we will be forced to pull out of this farcical election because the level of brutality and blatant disregard for electoral norms; that these elections are dead.

However, if it were decided that there was any realistic chance remaining that the will of the Zimbabwean people could be recorded, we will choose to participate.

Bracing itself for a flood of Zimbabweans fleeing the country after the election, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told The Times of London that it had put contingency plans in place in Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia and South Africa.

UNHCR has pre-positioned food and tents in all these places in the expectation of a flight of more refugees, a senior official said.

Meanwhile, several election observers say that they are unlikely to endorse the election.

One South African election observer in the SADC delegation — who asked not to be named for fear of arrest or assault — said: Slowly but surely, this conspiracy of support around Mugabe is crumbling.

I cannot for the life of me see how they could ever suggest this election is anything but a farce, and neither can the African leaders who once stood with Mugabe. There are massacres going on here — absolute massacres; there are torture camps; there are hundreds of people beaten in hospitals because their areas voted for the MDC last time.

The observer added: The African Union is really coming out very strongly — AU observers have already been here for a while. They’re saying these houses were burnt down, these people were burnt to death; it was all Zanu; it was all Zanu. I’ve been to observe previous elections and I wasn’t hearing that kind of open talk before.

Meanwhile, The Times of London reported that Western powers were considering having Mugabe hauled before the International Criminal Court in The Hague over the atrocities inflicted on his opponents.

He needs to know he is moments away from an indictment, a diplomat told the newspaper on Thursday.

Mbeki’s spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga said although the president respected the right of others to comment on day-to-day events, as SADC mediator he could not comment publicly on any developments.

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