SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt – Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe will not step down and Western critics who called the country's recent election a sham can "go hang," the longtime ruler's spokesman said Tuesday.
Mugabe was attending an African Union summit in this Red Sea resort after claiming victory Sunday in a runoff election that his opponent withdrew from, citing violence against supporters.
Leaders at the AU summit have been unwilling to publicly criticize Mugabe, and instead are gently pushing behind the scenes that he accept some sort of power-sharing agreement with Zimbabwe's opposition.
Presidential spokesman George Charamba sounded resistant to proposals about sharing power. Some African leaders have expressed frustration that more was not being done to pressure Mugabe.
Charamba told reporters that Mugabe would not step down.
"Isn't that an odd question. He's a few days into office and you expect him to retire, do you? ... Five days have expired, not even a week after. ... Why is the issue of the retirement of the president of Zimbabwe such an obsession for the West?" he said.
"He has come here as president of Zimbabwe and he will go home as president of Zimbabwe, and when you visit Zimbabwe he will be there as the president of all the people of Zimbabwe," Charamba told reporters.
The United States, Britain and other European countries have widely condemned the runoff. The U.S. is pushing for more financial and travel sanctions against Mugabe supporters and is urging the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has urged the African Union to reject the result of the runoff, and France says it considers Mugabe's government "illegitimate."
Charamba had harsh words for Western pressure: "They can go hang. They can go and hang a thousand times."
He also demanded that Zimbabwe be left to determine its own future.
"The way out is the way defined by the Zimbabwe people free from outside interference, and that is exactly what will resolve the matter," he said.
During public speeches at the summit's opening Monday, most AU leaders spoke of the "challenges" Zimbabwe is facing and none said anything harsh about Mugabe.
But Jendayi Frazer, the assistant U.S. secretary of state for African affairs, said she believed that in private, the leaders were going to "have very, very strong words for him."
Key African leaders have long had close ties to Mugabe, renowned as a campaigner against white rule and colonialism and Zimbabwe's ruler since its independence in 1980. They are also reluctant to be seen as backing the West — former colonial rulers — against a fellow African.
Meanwhile, Egyptian security ramped up restrictions Tuesday on journalists covering the summit after a British TV crew got into a verbal exchange with Mugabe the previous day. Many reporters were not allowed to leave the press area.
The confrontation began when British network ITN approached Mugabe outside the conference hall and asked how he could regard himself as president. The Zimbabwean leader responded that it was on the same basis as Brown's being the British prime minister.
Mugabe then said the reporter asked "stupid questions." TV footage showed Mugabe's guards pushing the reporter away.