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Mugabe more isolated

The opposition's pullout from Friday's vote raises pressure on Zimbabwe's leader.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer of the Christian Science Monitor, a correspondent / June 24, 2008

Under threat: Zimbabwe's main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is now seeking refuge in the Dutch Embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

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Johannesburg, South Africa; and Harare, Zimbabwe

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's decision Sunday to pull out of Friday's runoff election is increasing international pressure on President Robert Mugabe to stop the violence and allow a peaceful transfer of power in Zimbabwe.

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Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said Sunday that it is "scandalous for the SADC to remain silent on Zimbabwe."

Now all eyes are trained on South African President Thabo Mbeki, who the SADC has charged with mediating a peaceful solution to the Zimbabwe crisis, including a possible unity government. "I would hope that the leadership [of both parties] would still be open to a process which would result in them coming to some agreement," he said.

Sunday's turn of events may succeed in saving lives – at a time when more than 80 opposition activists have been killed and thousands displaced by pro-government militias – but in diplomatic circles it has had the effect of an ultimatum.

Britain's Africa Minister Mark Malloch Brown said Monday that the United Nations Security Council, the European Union (EU), and the African Union (AU) should consider wider sanctions.

And, as news broke that Mr. Tsvangirai is holing up in the Dutch Embassy in Harare for safety concerns, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that Mugabe's government cannot be considered legitimate without a fair runoff.

Neighboring countries, frustrated with stalled talks under Mr. Mbeki's tenure may push for fresh efforts, or even for new leadership, in the talks for a power-sharing agreement, observers say. No new details on the makeup of a possible unity government have emerged, however.

"There has been a shift in sentiment on the continent, and not all of it is reported as fully as it should be," says Steven Friedman, a senior analyst at the Institute for Democracy in Southern Africa in Tshwane, as Pretoria, South Africa, is now called. Not holding the runoff election "deprives Mugabe of his legitimacy," Mr. Friedman says, since the previous election of March 29 had him trailing Tsvangirai 47 percent to 43 percent.