* Tsvangirai urges U.N. to isolate Mugabe
* Opposition leader says peacekeepers needed
* U.S. calls on U.N. and SADC to act
By Ralph Gowling
LONDON, June 25 (Reuters) - Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai urged the United Nations on Wednesday to isolate President Robert Mugabe and said a peacekeeping force was needed in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe has shrugged off Monday’s unprecedented and unanimous decision by the U.N. Security Council to condemn violence against the opposition and declare that a free and fair presidential election on Friday was impossible.
Tsvangirai, who has withdrawn from the election and taken refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare since Sunday, said Zimbabwe would “break” if the world did not come to its aid.
“We ask for the U.N. to go further than its recent resolution, condemning the violence in Zimbabwe, to encompass an active isolation of the dictator Mugabe,” Tsvangirai wrote in an article in Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
“For this we need a force to protect the people. We do not want armed conflict, but the people of Zimbabwe need the words of indignation from global leaders to be backed by the moral rectitude of military force,” said Tsvangirai.
“Such a force would be in the role of peacekeepers, not trouble-makers. They would separate the people from their oppressors and cast the protective shield around the democratic process for which Zimbabwe yearns.”
Pressure has mounted on Mugabe from both inside and outside Africa to resolve Zimbabwe’s political turmoil and economic meltdown, blamed by the West and the opposition on the 84-year-old president who has held power for 28 years.
The United States has urged the leading regional body, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to declare both the election and Mugabe’s government illegitimate.
Angola’s state-run ANGOP news agency quoted SADC executive secretary Tomaz Salomao as saying foreign ministers agreed at a meeting on Monday that a “climate of extreme violence” existed in Zimbabwe and that the government must protect the people.
No SADC officials were immediately available for comment on media reports that the regional body planned to hold an emergency summit in Swaziland on Wednesday.
Friday’s vote was meant to be a run-off between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. The opposition leader won a first round in March but official figures did not give him an outright victory.
Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change won a parallel parliamentary election in March, sending Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party to its first defeat since independence from Britain in 1980.
Both Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and the leader of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress said Friday’s election must be postponed after Tsvangirai’s withdrawal.
Zuma, who rivals President Thabo Mbeki as South Africa’s most powerful man, called for urgent intervention by the U.N. and SADC, saying the situation in Zimbabwe was out of control.
South Africa under Mbeki has been an advocate of “quiet diplomacy” with Mugabe and has resisted calls to use its powerful economic leverage over landlocked Zimbabwe.
But Zuma, who toppled Mbeki as ANC leader last December, has become increasingly outspoken over Mugabe.
On Tuesday, Mugabe dismissed the pressure and told a rally in western Zimbabwe that Friday’s election would go ahead.
“The West can scream all it wants. Elections will go on. Those who want to recognise our legitimacy can do so, those who don’t want, should not,” said Mugabe.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, the current Security Council president, told reporters the council would consider further steps if Zimbabwe ignored its statement declaring a free and fair election was impossible.
But he declined to say what steps the council might take.
Mugabe has presided over a slide into economic chaos, including 80 percent unemployment and the world’s highest inflation rate of at least 165,000 percent.
He blames Western sanctions for his country's economic woes. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/)