Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bush Pushes Hard Line on Zimbabwe at G-8

Romeo Gacad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A Japanese youth leader greeted the leaders of the Group of 8 countries and the European Commission on Monday in Toyako.

Published: July 8, 2008

TOYAKO, Japan — As world leaders convened in this resort town in northern Japan on Monday for three days of talks on issues including climate change and rising food and energy prices, the agenda quickly shifted to the political crisis in Zimbabwe, exposing a split between Western and African leaders.

Jim Young/Reuters

President Bush with President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, the head of the African Union, at the Group of 8 meeting in Toyako, Japan.

The leaders of seven African countries and eight industrialized nations emerged divided after three hours of closed-door meetings dominated by the crisis in Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe was sworn in last month for a sixth term as president. He was re-elected in a one-candidate runoff that leaders around the world called a sham after weeks of violence against his opposition.

The United States and Britain have proposed an international arms embargo and sanctions on the Zimbabwe government. But with Mr. Mugabe warning Western nations not to interfere, and the African Union already on record as rejecting sanctions, the union’s head, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, suggested that a power-sharing agreement was the answer.

“We are saying no party can govern alone in Zimbabwe,” Mr. Kikwete said at a news conference with President Bush after the meetings, “and therefore the parties have to work together to come up to — to come out, work together, in a government, and then look at the future of their country together.”

Addressing Mr. Bush, he said: “We understand your concerns, but I want to assure you that the concerns you have expressed are indeed the concerns of many of us on the African continent. The only area that we may differ on is the way forward.”

Mr. Bush said he and other Western leaders had “listened carefully” to their African counterparts.

“You know I care deeply about the people of Zimbabwe,” he said. “I’m extremely disappointed in the elections, which I labeled a sham election.” But he did not mention any discussion of sanctions and ignored reporters’ questions on the issue.

The leaders are gathered here on the mountainous northern Japanese island of Hokkaido for the so-called Group of 8 summit meeting. Technically, the group includes the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Russia and Japan. The annual event has broadened to include heads of state from around the world, including the “Africa outreach” group of seven African leaders, from Tanzania, Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the meeting is drawing protesters and a shadow meeting as well. Two hours north of the official meeting site, globalization foes held a third day of protests in Hokkaido’s largest city, Sapporo, focused on agriculture on Monday.

About 150 people, some made up as clowns or dressed in black-spotted cow suits, marched through downtown Sapporo. Organizers said the current food crisis was a chance to rethink agricultural trade, and rely more on locally grown products.

The marchers, who chanted “No More G-8” in English and Japanese, included Japanese farmers and a handful of activists from Europe, the United States and Latin America. In the heavy-handed style of Japan’s security during the summit meeting so far, there were about the same number of police officers as protesters. The police formed a cordon around the march and followed in four blue and white buses.

“We face a food crisis, but the G-8 has no answers,” said a march organizer, Yoshitaka Mashima, who is vice chairman of the Japan Family Farmers Movement. “This is an opening for us to appeal to the public with new ideas.”

The food crisis was also an issue in the meeting with African leaders, according to officials who attended. Mr. Bush has made aid to Africa, especially his program to fight global AIDS, a centerpiece of his foreign policy agenda, and has said repeatedly that he intends to use this year’s meeting to press his fellow Group of 8 leaders to live up to their 2005 pledge to double development aid to Africa by 2010.

According to the advocacy group One, which is based in Washington and focuses on fighting poverty and AIDS around the world, just 14 percent of those pledges have been filled. Dan Price, a deputy national security adviser to Mr. Bush, said the African leaders spoke of the “essential need” for wealthy nations to live up to their pledges at the Monday meeting.

But despite the focus on poverty and disease, it was clear that Zimbabwe weighed most heavily on the leaders’ minds.

Mr. Bush said the leaders spent “a fair amount of time” talking about the political situation there.

The African Union leaders have publicly offered only limited criticism of Mr. Mugabe over the violence before the June 27 runoff. In the weeks before the vote, state-sponsored enforcers beat and killed followers of Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader who won 48 percent to Mr. Mugabe’s 43 percent in the first round of elections. Days before the runoff, Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew.

Many African leaders have sought to persuade Mr. Mugabe to agree to a power-sharing arrangement with Mr. Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change, so far to no avail.

Last week, the United States formally introduced a sanctions resolution at the United Nations, calling for an international arms embargo and punitive measures against the 14 people deemed to be most responsible for the violence. But the African Union argues that the idea is a local problem that can be dealt with locally, and after Monday’s session, it was clear that had not changed.

Martin Fackler contributed reporting.


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