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Mugabe rejects calls for ouster from office

With familiar defiance after elections widely denounced as a sham, President Robert Mugabe dismissed international demands for his ouster Tuesday, saying through a spokesman that the U.S. and other countries could “go hang a thousand times.”

George Charamba, the presidential spokesman, was speaking to reporters at a meeting of the leaders of the 53-nation African Union. Facing pressure from the U.S. for expanded sanctions against Mugabe, African leaders held a second day of closed-door meetings Tuesday to seek consensus on a negotiated settlement of the crisis.

Mugabe wants the African Union to endorse his re-election in a vote Friday that three African monitoring groups labeled inadequate or not credible.

But his adversaries – and some of his allies – are pressing him to accept a settlement that would mean sharing power with his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai.

The African drama is being played out against a backdrop of American plans to persuade the United Nations to tighten existing sanctions on Mugabe and his regime.

Asked how he responded to the pressure, Charamba told reporters: “They can go hang a thousand times. They have no basis, no claim on Zimbabwean politics at all.”

He also dismissed demands that Mugabe step down as part of a settlement. “With only five days in office, you expect him to retire?” Charamba said, referring to the time since Mugabe won the runoff with 85 percent of the vote, according to the official count.

Charamba also rejected proposals from some African leaders that Zimbabwe should be run by a coalition government, as Kenya did after its contested election in December and subsequent political crisis.

“Kenya is Kenya. Zimbabwe is Zimbabwe. We have our own history of evolving dialogue and resolving political impasses the Zimbabwean way. The Zimbabwean way, not the Kenyan way. Not at all,” he said.

Deepening the sense of deadlock, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change issued a statement in Harare saying that “there are no talks or discussions taking place between the two parties and most importantly, there is no agreement in the offing.”

Despite Mugabe's defiance, there were growing indications of divisions in the continent's approach to him. President Omar Bongo of Gabon was quoted on Tuesday as telling reporters that Mugabe “was elected, he took an oath, and he is here with us, so he is president and we cannot ask him more,” Agence France-Presse reported.

But President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone told the BBC: “The people of Zimbabwe have been denied their democratic rights. We should, in no uncertain terms, condemn what has happened.” Mugabe won the runoff after his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, boycotted the vote and took refuge in the Dutch Embassy in Harare following a wave of violence in which scores of his aides and supporters were reported to have been killed.

Tsvangirai left the embassy Tuesday, to “do his regular work from home,” the Dutch Foreign Ministry said in the Hague.

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