- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 10, 2002

HARARE, Zimbabwe As the hours dwindled to minutes Friday night before Zimbabwe's presidential elections, President Robert Mugabe spared no maneuver in his bid to remain in power.
But even as he runs a campaign bolstered by new legislation that makes criticizing the president a crime and that disenfranchises thousands of Zimbabweans with its slenderest of definitions for voting rights, Mr. Mugabe has quietly crafted backup plans should either election or country turn against him.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, a long-time ally, apparently has a key role in Mr. Mugabe's future plans. Col. Gadhafi is trying to prevail on Mr. Mugabe to retire and has reportedly given him $1 million as an incentive with arrangements made for him to be flown out to exile in Libya.
Another likely destination could be Namibia, where Mr. Mugabe bought a large ranch last year and stocked it with a prize cattle herd from Zimbabwe.
The 78-year-old Zimbabwean president also is reported to have salted away substantial assets in the Bahamas and Malaysia.
Col. Gadhafi has been a longtime friend of the Mugabe family. He has supported Mr. Mugabe with hefty political contributions to his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party and by orchestrating a lucrative oil deal.
When Mr. Mugabe last visited Libya in December, he took his wife and children with him. Col. Gadhafi later arranged for Mr. Mugabe and his son, Chatunga, who suffers from the same eye ailment as his father, to see an eye specialist in Spain.
Mr. Mugabe's wife, Grace, has been trying to enlist Mrs. Gadhafi's support for the various charities she runs in Zimbabwe.
But reports of corruption in the oil deal and a sex scandal involving the Libyan ambassador in Harare, coupled with fears that Mr. Mugabe was fast losing popularity at home, has forced the Libyans to rethink their support.
While dozens of Jeep Cherokees given by Col. Gadhafi have arrived to aid Mr. Mugabe's campaign, a large portion of the $48 million Libyan donation to the ZANU-PF party campaign fund has been put on hold.
A Zimbabwean worker fired from her job at the Libyan Embassy last July over what she described as "a petty issue involving five plates" charged Ambassador Mahmound Yousef Azzabi with sexual abuse. Janet Mutasa, who circulated letters to the police and to a government minister that provided graphic details of purported sexual abuse over a two-year period, said she gave in to Mr. Azzabi's persistent demands when he promised to buy her a house.
The Mugabe government reportedly tried hard to hush up the affair, but Ms. Mutasa's letters finally surfaced in the press last month. Government officials and the police are said to have offered her a holiday at Victoria Falls and a plot of land to win her silence. Col. Gadhafi, however, decided to recall Mr. Azzabi, a long-serving ambassador and a star in Harare diplomatic circles.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) then revealed that Mr. Azzabi had been covering up wholesale corruption involving Zimbabwean officials over a Libyan oil contract worth $40 million a month.
The Libyans also became indignant over Mr. Mugabe's deal with Ari Ben-Menashe, an Israeli at the center of an "assassination plot" against the president by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
"Mugabe has repeatedly assured us of his support for the Palestinians against the Israelis, yet when he's up against it he goes running off to an Israeli for help," a Libyan official said on the condition of anonymity.
According to sources, Yusuf Magam, the Harare-based head of Libyan intelligence for southern Africa, has shot off an angry letter about the Israeli connection. He also noted that Mr. Mugabe has bought riot gear, tear gas and apparently even armored cars from Israel.
The Mugabe regime, which is widely expected to declare the president re-elected whatever be the outcome of the vote, has been arming itself to the teeth in case major riots break out in the wake of such a declaration.
Mr. Magam, the interim head of the Libyan mission, has been critical of Mr. Azzabi's loyalty to the ZANU-PF party.
In order to protect the considerable Libyan assets in Zimbabwe, Mr. Magam has reportedly suggested that Libya build up its relations with the MDC since the opposition group is bound to come to power sooner or later.
Mrs. Gadhafi, meanwhile, canceled her January visit to announce contributions to Mrs. Mugabe's charities after reports of the sex scandal.
Col. Gadhafi much like South African President Thabo Mbeki is reported to have come around to the view that he would like the ZANU-PF party to remain in power but under a new and younger leader. He reportedly asked Mr. Magam to give Mr. Mugabe $1 million in order to smooth the way to retirement.
Mr. Magam also has been ordered to arrange air transport to fly Mr. Mugabe, his family and his possessions to exile in Libya if need be.
Meanwhile Libya, which never holds elections, has sent a four-member team of election observers, headed by a senior military officer, to monitor the Zimbabwean election.


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