Opposition Leader Emerges, Calls for 'Peacekeeper' to Solve Zimbabwe Crisis

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai called Wednesday for "armed peacekeepers" to be sent to his country amid mounting international condemnation of President Robert Mugabe over the crisis.

Tsvangirai emerged from the Dutch embassy, where he was holed up for three days after withdrawing from Friday's presidential run-off, and appealed for renewed efforts by regional leaders meeting on the Zimbabwe unrest.

"I didn't ask for any military intervention, but for armed peacekeepers," he told reporters, referring to comments in Britain's Guardian newspaper that the United Nations had to go further than verbal condemnation of Mugabe and move to "active isolation" which required "a force to protect the people."

"This cannot be a part-time mediation effort," Tsvangirai added in comments to reporters at his house. "The time for action is now. The people in the country can wait no longer."

He called on the African Union and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) "to lead... to start what I would call a transitional setup" that "would allow the country to heal."

President Bush called the presidential runoff election in Zimbabwe a sham. Bush said that the people of Zimbabwe deserve better and just want to express themselves at the ballot box.

"Friday's elections appear to be a sham," Bush said. "You can't have free elections when a candidate is not allowed to campaign without fear of intimidation."

As Tsvangirai left the embassy Tuesday, police raided a headquarters of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the eastern city of Mutare where 200 people displaced by political violence had taken refuge, according to an MDC spokesman.

The MDC claims scores of its supporters have been killed in political violence since Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the first round of the presidential vote but did not get the majority needed to become president.

Tsvangirai quit the presidential race on Sunday saying it was too risky for his followers to stay in the election battle with Mugabe.

Tsvangirai said "no discussion" was possible with the government until his party number two and 2,000 "political prisoners" were freed.

King Mswati of Swaziland and Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete were at a meeting of the SADC's security committee in Mbabane, said a Swaziland government spokesman.

Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos or his foreign minister Joao Miranda were also expected at the meeting but South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, a mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis, stayed away with his spokesman saying he had not been invited.

The SADC has been strongly criticised for its perceived failure to act over Zimbabwe.

Western nations, including Britain and the United States, have urged the world to isolate Mugabe and declare his presidency illegitimate if there is not a free and fair ballot.

The UN Security Council has condemned the political violence and France on Wednesday joined other nations in saying it would not recognize "the legitimacy of the power that emerges from the rigged elections of June 27."

Britain detailed plans to bolster sanctions on Zimbabwe, specifically targeting the "cabal" around Mugabe.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged businesses with interests in Zimbabwe to ensure they were not benefiting Mugabe's government, and called for the Zimbabwe cricket team to be banned from touring England next year.

"We want to see a peaceful transition as soon as possible," Brown told the British parliament, adding that his government was considering extending financial and travel sanctions that already apply to 160 Zimbabwean government figures.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga appealed to Mugabe to postpone Friday's vote and start dialogue, warning of catastrophe in Zimbabwe if the world failed to intervene.

"We encourage dialogue. Sometimes it is better to negotiate with a devil, if that is what it takes, to save the people of Zimbabwe," he said, adding: "Zimbabwe right now is a disaster in the making.... If the world does not act now, we will soon have a situation very similar to what we saw in Rwanda."

Mugabe, in his first direct comments on Tsvangirai's withdrawal, defied international criticism and vowed that the election would go ahead, saying the opposition chief had pulled out because he was afraid of losing.

"Other people can say what they want, but the elections are ours and we are a sovereign state," Mugabe told a rally north of Harare on Tuesday. "We will proceed with our election."

The state-run Herald newspaper quoted Mugabe as saying he was open to negotiations, but Friday's run-off would be held first.

Mugabe, 84, is accused by critics of leading the once model economy to ruin and trampling on human rights. The country has the world's highest inflation rate and is experiencing major food shortages.