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As Zimbabwe Crisis Mounts, Mugabe Tells Western Critics To 'Go Hang'

President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania met in Harare Thursday with President Robert Mugabe as the representative of the Southern African Development Community, but the Zimbabwean president later expressed defiance of international criticism over his crackdown on political opponents, saying the Western powers could "go hang."

Mr. Kikwete is chairman of the regional organization's committee on politics, defense and security, which has been handed a brief to seek a resolution to the long-running Zimbabwe crisis. The so-called troika also includes Lesotho and Namibia.

After his discussions with Mr. Kikwete, Mr. Mugabe told journalists that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change is to is to blame for rising violence.

"Here are groups of people who went out of their way to effect acts of violence," said Mr. Mugabe, who turned 83 last month and has been in power since 1980. "We hear no criticism to this campaign from Western governments," he said. "When they criticize the government when it tries to prevent violence and punish perpetrators of that violence, we take the position that they can go hang."

Mr. Kikwete told the news conference that he and Mr. Mugabe discussed the security situation in Zimbabwe and agreed on ways forward on various issues. Kikwete said the crisis in Zimbabwe had come up in his recent talks with European leaders.

Mr. Kikwete's own intelligence director, Rashid Othman, was in Harare last week for meetings with Zimbabwean cabinet members. Intelligence sources said Dar-es-Salaam would like to relaunch a mediation initiative involving ex-president Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania. Othman also met with Zimbabwe intelligence chief Happyton Bonyongwe.

For insight into the dynamic between Harare and the Southern African Development Community, reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to former Zimbabwean Information minister Jonathan Moyo, now the independent member of parliament for Tsholotsho, who said Southern African states are losing patience.

The barrage of international censure of Harare following the events of the week - the shooting death of an opposition demonstrator Sunday, the arrest and alleged beating of opposition leaders - may not lead to positive change, some analysts said.

They advanced the opinion that only the Zimbabwean people can resolve the crisis. Though Western criticism of Zimbabwe is not unusual, some observers saw a sea change in African diplomacy when Ghanaian President and African Union Chairman John Kuffuor declared Wednesday that the alleged beating of Zimbabwe opposition officials by police was an “embarrassment.”

South Africa’s deputy foreign minister issued a more veiled plea for Harare to respect the rule of law and civil rights.

For analysis and comment on the regional reaction, reporter Ndimiyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to Bishop Trevor Manhanga, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe and head of a clerical group that in 2006 drafted a "national vision" for Zimbabwe, and South African-based journalist Allister Sparks.

Sparks said he regional criticism will increase pressure for change in Zimbabwe.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...