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In About-Face On Zimbabwe, South Africa Urges Release Of Election Results

In a major policy shift closely following a United Nations-African Union summit in New York on Wednesday, the South African cabinet on Thursday urged the speedy release of the results of the Zimbabwe presidential election held nearly three weeks ago.

The Pretoria government also said it is dispatching monitors to Harare to ensure that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has full access to election recounts, and a “facilitation team” to work with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which has to date resisted domestic and international pressure to give the election outcome.

South African government spokesman Themba Maseko called the Zimbabwean situation “dire,” contrasting with President Thabo Mbeki’s recent declaration that no crisis exists.He said Pretoria is greatly concerned at the delay in issuing the results of the election, which the opposition says MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai.

The opposition and human rights groups say the Harare government is stepping up a crackdown on opposition supporters in rural areas in particular, but Mr. Mbeki did not mention the situation in remarks to the U.N. Security Council, which he chaired.

Maseko told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that further delay in releasing the results could lead to instability in Zimbabwe.

The ruling African National Congress under the presidency of Jacob Zuma was also stepping up pressure on Harare to issue the election results.

ANC Secretary General Gwede Manthashe said the delay is a cause for concern.

Constitutional expert Shadrack Ghutto, head of the Center for African Renaissance Studies at the University of South Africa , said that as Zimbabwe mediator under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community, a regional grouping, Mr. Mbeki’s ability to speak candidly about the crisis is somewhat limited.

Despite Pretoria’s shift, opposition leader Tsvangirai told journalists Thursday that he wanted to see Mr. Mbeki relieved of his mediation brief so that SADC could send a special envoy or mission to stay in Zimbabwe until the crisis is resolved.

From Johannesburg, VOA correspondent Benedict Nhlapho reported that Tsvangirai said that he has lost confidence in Mr. Mbeki as an impartial mediator.

At home, the Harare government accused Tsvangirai of treason, saying he plotted with Britain to force regime change through the recent elections.

The MDC and Britain dismissed the allegations. The British embassy in Harare said an alleged letter to Tsvangirai from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was a forgery. The state-controlled Herald newspaper said the opposition leader approached Britain about using force to bring down President Robert Mugabe's administration.

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