HARARE (Reuters) - The United States accused President Robert Mugabe on Thursday of delaying Zimbabwe’s election results because he had lost and joined a call for an arms embargo to push for change.
In a sign of the growing international pressure on Mugabe, China said a shipment of arms for the country was being recalled after South African workers refused to unload the vessel and other regional countries barred it from their ports.
The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, on a tour of Zimbabwe’s most influential neighbors, said opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai appeared to have won the March 29 presidential vote — for which no results have been announced.
“This is a government that is essentially rejecting the will of the people. If they had voted for Mugabe we would have the results,” Assistant Secretary of State Frazer told reporters in Pretoria.
“As far as we know in the first round Morgan won and people voted for change.”
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Tsvangirai has said he won the presidential poll and accused Mugabe of delaying results to rig victory and keep his 28-year hold over Zimbabwe, whose economy lies in ruins.
The outcome of a parliamentary poll which the opposition won is also in doubt because of partial recounts.
The recount in 23 of 210 constituencies could overturn the results of the parliamentary election, which showed Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF losing its majority for the first time.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has recounted nine constituencies, Utoile Silaigwana, ZEC deputy chief election officer, told Reuters. He said candidates that were originally declared winners retained their position, without elaborating.
Frazer said she expects to meet Tsvangirai in the next 24 hours, possibly giving him diplomatic leverage in his relentless regional tour aimed at persuading leaders to push Mugabe aside.
Mugabe has capitalized on his status as a former African liberation hero. But regional countries awed by his struggle against former colonial power Britain are taking a tougher line against him in the election crisis.
Frazer is due to visit Zambia, chair of the SADC regional group of nations, and African oil power Angola.
The poll deadlock has raised fears of widespread bloodshed in Zimbabwe, which could have dire consequences for a region that already hosts millions of Zimbabweans who have fled economic collapse.
The recall of the Chinese ship An Yue Jiang, carrying 77 metric tons of assault rifle ammunition, mortars and rifle grenades, came after unprecedented regional opposition in addition to Western pressure over the election.
Frazer stood behind a British proposal for an arms embargo to put pressure on Mugabe.
“It will send a great warning to those who would send arms into Zimbabwe, including the Chinese,” she said.
The European Union already has an arms embargo on Zimbabwe, part of sanctions in place since 2002. Washington has also imposed sanctions and Britain wants a wider arms embargo.
The measures have failed to weaken Mugabe, who critics accuse of ruining Zimbabwe’s economy and keeping a grip on power through tough security measures and a patronage network. Mugabe blames Western foes and the MDC for Zimbabwe’s plight.
South African ruling African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma, who has become the most outspoken African leader on Zimbabwe, said it was not yet time to impose an arms embargo.
“I think it is going too far and I think it complicates a situation that needs to be handled with great care,” he told reporters in London.
Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he supported all efforts to stop arms flowing into Zimbabwe. He also called on African leaders to persuade Mugabe to step down.
“I want to call on African leaders to show that they really care by speaking quietly to Mr. Mugabe and say: ‘Step down, you’ve been there for 20 years, man’,” Tutu told reporters in the South African university town of Stellenbosch.
Zimbabweans want relief from chronic food, fuel and foreign currency shortages and a staggering inflation rate of 165,000 percent — the world’s highest.
At the press briefing with Frazer, U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee said Zimbabweans should expect an economic package worth billions of dollars if a new democratic government that embraces free markets is formed.
Reporting by Lindsay Beck in Beijing, Matthew Tostevin in London, Cris Chinaka in Harare, Wendell Roelf in Cape Town and Paul Simao in Pretoria; Writing by Michael Georgy; editing by Sami Aboudi