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Zimbabwe Opposition Chief Tsvangirai Urges African-Led Political Solution

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, emerging briefly from diplomatic protection behind the walls of the Dutch embassy in Harare on Wednesday, issued a call for the African Union and the Southern African Development Community to take the lead to put in place a political transition process leading to a longer-term solution to the national crisis.

"We have always maintained that the Zimbabwean problem is an African problem that requires an African solution. To this end, I am asking the African Union and SADC to lead an expanded initiative, supported by the United Nations, to manage the transitional process," he said.

"We are proposing that the AU facilitation team, comprising eminent Africans, set up a transitional period which takes into account the will of the people of Zimbabwe. The African Union team would lead in the constituting and character of the transitional period. The transitional period would allow the country to heal," Tsvangirai told reports.

Tsvangirai emerged for a few hours from the Dutch embassy compound in Harare to hold a news conference at his home in the Avondale section of the capital, but returned to the embassy later in the day, saying his personal safety remained in question.

The opposition leader sought refuge at the Dutch embassy on Sunday soon after announcing that he was withdrawing from the presidential run-off election scheduled for June 27 mainly due to political violence that had claimed the lives of more than 80 supporters.

President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party said it would hold the election all the same, and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission on Wednesday said it would proceed with the ballot. Panel chairman George Chiweshe said Tsvangirai's notice of withdrawal had come too late.

Correspondent Irwin Chifera of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported on Tsvangirai's news conference, and Tsvangirai later expanded on his proposal and his personal situation in an interview with reporter Blessing Zulu from the Dutch embassy.

Tsvangirai made clear that Harare's release of Tendai Biti, secretary general of his opposition Movement for Democratic Change, was critical to the political process he outlined. Lawyers for Biti were in the Harare high court on Wednesday seeking his release on bail. Biti faces charges of treason and subversion, among others brought by police and prosecutors following his arrest June 12 at Harare International Airport upon his return from Johannesburg.

Biti's lawyer, Lewis Uriri, told reporter Patience Rusere that Justice Ben Hlatshwayo reserved judgment for 24 hours but during the hearing described the charges against Biti as lacking seriousness, leading him to believe Biti could be freed on bail on Thursday.

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chief Chiweshe told reporters in a news conference that the constitution required a candidate to give 21 days notice of withdrawal, so his panel was legally obliged to follow through with the election despite Tsvangirai's withdrawal declaration.

Human rights lawyer Arnold Tsunga rejected Chiweshe's claim that the constitution requires 21 days notice of withdrawal by a candidate, and said the election would be illegal.

Executive Director Dennis Kadima of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the ballot will be a non-event and that Mr. Mugabe's insistence on holding the election is merely a tactical move in the crisis.

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