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U.S. Ambassador: Zimbabwe Vote Can't Be Halted

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, formally withdrew today from his country's presidential runoff. In a moment, we'll hear from President Robert Mugabe's spokesman, George Charamba.

First, the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe said today that nothing can be done to stop the government from moving forward with the election. But the international community can keep a spotlight on the violence that has marred the campaign so far.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: In his withdrawal letter, Morgan Tsvangirai wrote that the runoff election should be null and void. U.S. Ambassador James McGee agrees after personally witnessing the government's brutal tactics against the MDC, Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change.

Mr. JAMES McGEE (U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe): The MDC's withdrawal was regrettable, but is very understandable. The people of MDC were being massacred. The violence has not abated.

KELEMEN: In a conference call today, McGee said that Tsvangirai is still in the Dutch Embassy where he's under protection. And the ambassador describe in great detail how 2,000 opposition supporters have been forced from their homes, living in squalid conditions in the MDC's headquarters, a building raided by police yesterday.

Mr. McGEE: Fortunately, we were able to get word to the people that the police were on the way, and the majority of these people left. And the police still arrested about 30 people who were either too old or too infirm to get out in a hurry.

KELEMEN: Ambassador McGee says while the world can't stop this week's runoff, he and his fellow diplomats can continue to shed light on the situation. Last week, his staff even distributed a videotape of government supporters chasing people with sticks. McGee says someone in his convoy just happened to have a video recorder. He's not worried he'll be kicked out of Zimbabwe for doing things like this and he's not backing down.

Mr. McGEE: I don't think it's any more dangerous for diplomats because of our actions. What I do believe is our actions have shown diplomats that maybe we should be out and about more than we had been in the past.

KELEMEN: Southern African leaders are to hold an emergency meeting on Zimbabwe tomorrow. Ambassador McGee says he wants the group to send a message that, as he puts it, this is an illegitimate government carrying out an illegitimate election.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.