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Odinga suggests the removal of Mugabe

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2008

In an unusually pointed attack on a fellow African leader, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Tuesday said Zimbabwe under President Robert Mugabe was an "embarrassment" for the continent and said he would back an international force to remove him from office and oversee new elections.

Mr. Odinga, beginning a Washington visit this week, told reporters in a briefing he saw no chance that Zimbabwe's June 27 presidential runoff election between Mr. Mugabe and opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai will be fair, given the government's violent campaign against dissent and its control of the electoral machinery.

"The question is whether the conditions for free and fair elections exist in Zimbabwe at the moment. The answer is, no, they don't," he said.

"In my view, the international community should insist that Robert Mugabe step down, and send in an international peacekeeping force" to supervise a new election, he added.

Mr. Odinga, who shares power in an uneasy coalition with rival President Mwai Kibaki after a bitterly disputed election in December, slammed the tradition in Africa in which leaders refrained from criticizing one another.

He singled out South African President Thabo Mbeki, arguing South Africa has been saddled with millions of Zimbabwean economic and political refugees because Mr. Mbeki has not spoken out "against impunity in Zimbabwe."

In an address to an overflow crowd at the Center for Strategic and International Studies earlier in the day, Mr. Odinga said it was "sad many African heads of state have remained quiet when disaster is looming in Zimbabwe."

Mr. Tsvangirai outpolled Mr. Mugabe, Zimbabwe's ruler since independence in 1980, in the first round of voting in March, but the country's electoral commission said the opposition leader did not get the outright majority needed to win.

The Bush administration has been sharply critical of what it says is an orchestrated intimidation campaign by Mugabe supporters to rig and win the upcoming runoff. Under Mr. Mugabe, Zimbabwe's economy has imploded, and living standards and social services all but collapsed.

Mr. Mugabe threatened Tuesday in an interview with state radio to arrest opposition leaders who he said were responsible for recent election-related violence.

Mr. Odinga, who will meet with senior administration officials, congressional leaders, and World Bank officials while in Washington, acknowledged that Kenya's reputation as an "oasis of stability" in Africa had been severely damaged by the recent political violence.

Some 1,500 people were killed and another 350,000 driven from their homes in ethnic and tribal clashes following the Dec. 27 vote. In part under pressure from the United States, Mr. Kibaki in April named Mr. Odinga to the new post of prime minister in a "grand coalition" government - the first of its kind in Africa.

Mr. Odinga acknowledged the government still faces major challenges, on land reform, refugees, drafting a new constitution and overhauling the government bureaucracy. But he noted that he had traveled to Washington with two Cabinet ministers from Mr. Kibaki's party and said the two sides have no choice but to work together.

"It is not an issue of a love affair between myself and President Kibaki, it's an issue of political interests," he said.