Australia sees risk of "brutal habits" in Zimbabwe

Other News Materials 6 April 2008 08:03 (UTC +04:00)

(Reuters) - Australia said on Sunday it was increasingly concerned that Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was about to use "brutal habits" to steal an election win and that aid would depend on whether a fair government was put in place.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith also said that teams of international observers in Zimbabwe needed to be reinforced if last week's presidential election went to a second-round contest.

"I am now starting to worry about the dangers of intimidation, when it comes to a second round, if that's what unfolds in the next few days," Smith told ABC television's Insiders programme.

"I think the international community has to look very, very closely at beefing up those observers if we do go to a second round because I'm becoming increasingly worried with some untoward developments that Mr Mugabe may be trying to steal the election through intimidation," he said.

"We've really got to put the weights on here as best we can to make sure Mr Mugabe doesn't get away with resorting to his very bad, brutal habits of old," Smith said.

The Australian foreign minister, who said he had consulted with South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma on Saturday night, was speaking after Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party called for a recount in last week's presidential election, citing "errors and miscalculations".

The call, reported in the state-run Sunday Mail newspaper, followed opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's accusation that Mugabe was deploying forces for a "war on the people" to reverse the election results, which have not yet been released.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change says it won the March 29 presidential election.

Australia would be "in the marketplace" for development assistance for Zimbabwe, if a government that respected the will of the people was put in place, Smith said on Sunday.

Zimbabwe has become one of the most impoverished countries in the world, with inflation now running at more than 100,000 percent, the highest in the world. The country has chronic food and fuel shortages and 80 percent unemployment.

The opposition and Western governments blame longstanding president Mugabe for the economic collapse. He blames Western sanctions.

"We've not got an international responsibility to seek to rebuild the Zimbabwe economy and rebuild the Zimbabwean nation, with very many of its people now living effectively in abject poverty," Smith said on Sunday.

Australian assistance to rebuild the country's economy and nation would depend on whether Zimbabwe put in place a government that respected the will of the people and wanted to do good works for the people, he said.