HARARE, Zimbabwe // The president Robert Mugabe says no African nation has the guts to topple him, state media reported today, as the opposition said it would suspend power-sharing talks unless dozens of political detainees are released or charged. The state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted Mr Mugabe as telling leaders of his party that neighbouring Botswana's calls for his ouster are nothing but hot air.
"How could African leaders ever topple Robert Mugabe, organise an army to come?" Mr Mugabe, who has led the country for 28 years, is quoted as asking. "It is not easy. I do not know of any African country that is brave enough to do that." Mugabe's comments on Thursday came as the top US envoy for Africa warned Zimbabwe had effectively collapsed and the world should act urgently to keep it from deteriorating into Somalia-scale chaos.
Most neighbouring countries, including regional giant South Africa, are opposed to military intervention in Zimbabwe, where a cholera epidemic has killed 1,123 people and the United Nations says half the population faces imminent starvation. Mr Mugabe's critics blame his policies for the ruin of the once-productive nation. Mr Mugabe blames Western sanctions for the nation's economic meltdown, though the European Union and US sanctions are aimed only at Mr Mugabe and dozens of his clique with frozen bank accounts and travel bans.
Mr Mugabe's ZANU-PF party was opening its annual convention today in Bindura, 60 miles (90 kilometers) northeast of Harare, the capital. In speaking to the party's central committee, he acknowledged on Thursday that 2008 has been "the most difficult year" but called on party leaders to be united as "better times were beckoning", the Herald reported. The convention was being held in an area hit by cholera, and organisers said food and clean water supplies were trucked into the venue. The state power utility promised to keep electricity going during the meeting.
Zimbabweans are suffering dire shortages of piped water and electricity as well as food and medicine. On Thursday, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said questions about how much longer Zimbabwe can withstand hunger, disease and political stalemate before disintegrating ignore that "there is a complete collapse right now." "We think that the person who has ruined the country ... that he needs to step down," Mr Frazer said.
"We're watching Zimbabwe become a failed state. We need to act now, proactively, in Zimbabwe." Meanwhile, Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden today called Mr Mugabe to step down, holding him responsible for the chaos in his country. "The Nordic countries call for an end to the misrule of Robert Mugabe and of the disrespect for democratic principles and human rights - which are core issues underlying the Nordic engagement and support for the liberation struggles in southern Africa," the countries' foreign ministers said in a statement. "The authorities in Zimbabwe alone bear the responsibility for the tragic situation the country is currently faced with," they said.
*AP and AFP