sa sings a different tune on zim

HARARE - The South African government, in a major change of stance, yesterday called for the rapid release of results from Zimbabwe's presidential election, saying it was concerned by the delay that has increased fears of violence.

HARARE - The South African government, in a major change of stance, yesterday called for the rapid release of results from Zimbabwe's presidential election, saying it was concerned by the delay that has increased fears of violence.

"The situation is dire," government spokesman Themba Maseko said in Cape Town yesterday. "When elections are held and results are not released two weeks after, it is obviously of great concern."

President Thabo Mbeki has previously said the electoral process must take its course, and that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe following the March 29 elections.

His stance was seen as backing President Robert Mugabe over the delay. Although Mugabe's Zanu-PF party lost control of parliament for the first time in the vote, no results have been released from the presidential poll.

"The Zimbabweans need to be informed about those reasons for holding the results. But the most important thing is that the results need to be verified and released as soon as possible," Maseko said.

South Africa had previously hesitated to join international expressions of concern over the delay in the results of the vote, in which the opposition says Mugabe was defeated.

But ANC leader Jacob Zuma has made several statements calling for release of the results.

Mbeki is under criticism at home for his insistence on quiet diplomacy in dealing with the crisis in Zimbabwe, where the economy has collapsed, bringing hyper-inflation, shortages of food and fuel and 80 percent unemployment. Millions of people have fled to South Africa.

Earlier, Mugabe's government accused opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai of working with former colonial power Britain to topple Mugabe. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said Tsvangirai was a British puppet.

At a summit of the UN and the African Union on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "No one thinks, having seen the results of polling stations, that President Mugabe has won."

Chinamasa responded: "It is clear from the correspondence that Tsvangirai along with Brown are seeking regime change in Zimbabwe, and on the part of Tsvangirai, this is treasonous."

The Group of Eight rich nations yesterday joined the international criticism, expressing "deep concern" about rising tension in Zimbabwe.

Brown was speaking at a summit in New York, US, where Western states and the UN urged action to ensure a fair outcome from the election. - Reuters

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