Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: Mugabe turns to China as UN pressure builds

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By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE, July 26 (Reuters) - President Robert Mugabe won financial and diplomatic support from China on Tuesday as Zimbabwe came under increased pressure from the United Nations over slum demolitions.

Visiting Beijing on Tuesday, Mugabe and Chinese leader Hu Jintao signed a deal on economic and technical cooperation, though neither side said what it contained.

But faced with targeted sanctions from the European Union and Washington and cut off since 1999 from fresh International Monetary Fund and World Bank support, Mugabe's spokesman has said the government is exploring new lines of credit to help deal with some $4.5 billion in foreign debts.

Hu praised Mugabe for making "major contributions to the friendly relations between our two countries".

"I stand ready to have an in-depth exchange of views with your excellency on our bilateral relations," Hu said at the start of their meeting.

Tuesday's deal gave Mugabe a boost as he faces growing isolation from the West and pressure from the United Nations to end the demolition programme and give unfettered humanitarian access to some 700,000 people it estimates have been left without homes, jobs or both.

U.N. Children's Fund UNICEF said more than 220,000 children had lost their homes in two months, adding it was "horrified at reports of children dying of easily treatable respiratory infections and of women being forced to give birth in the open."

Mugabe says the clearances targeted unregistered shantytown buildings and illegal trading in hard currency, food and other commodities that are scarce due to a serious economic crisis.

The government has said the demolitions have been suspended, but a U.N. official in Zimbabwe said on Monday that it had reports that the operation was continuing in eastern areas.

UNDER PRESSURE

Anna Tibaijuka, special envoy of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, published a damning report on Friday branding the demolitions a "disastrous adventure".

U.N. Human Rights chief Louise Arbour kept the pressure on Mugabe, reinforcing Tibaijuka's calls to end the demolitions.

"I echo her call and that of the secretary-general first for the government to put an end to a practice that has caused and continues to cause immense hardship," Arbour told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.

"I also echo the calls for those responsible for this extremely misguided initiative to be held to account, for reparations to be paid to the victims and for the government to facilitate the deployment of humanitarian assistance at the earliest opportunity."

In Harare, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said Tibaijuka's report had vindicated claims by his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that up to 2 million people had been affected by the clearance operation, and urged Arbour's agency to dispatch a human rights envoy to the country.

MDC CALLS FOR RAPPORTEUR

The MDC has said the crackdown was a punitive move against Zimbabwe's urban dwellers who have largely supported the opposition in elections since its formation in 1999.

"We believe significant progress can be registered in the search for a lasting solution if ... the U.N. sends to Harare a rapporteur from the U.N. Human Rights Commission to undertake a comprehensive investigation into the situation in our country," Tsvangirai told journalists.

Tsvangirai said Zimbabwe needed international support to help feed its people after a devastating drought this year.

But Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Secretary Lancaster Museka told state media on Tuesday the country would not formally ask the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) for help. (Additional reporting by Lindsay Beck in Beijing and Richard Waddington in Geneva)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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