Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa calls for end to Western sanctions at first party conference since coup
Zimbabwe’s new president has called for the removal of US “sanctions” against himself and many of his political and military colleagues ahead of the ruling party’s special congress in Harare today.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, who came to power via a coup d’etat last month, will be appointed president and first secretary of Zanu PF at the party conference on Friday, cementing his grip on power ahead of presidential elections next year.
The man he deposed, Robert Mugabe, will be absent from a congress for the first time since the party emerged as an independence movement in white-ruled Rhodesia more then 50 years ago. He is believed to have flown to Singapore for medical checks.
Speaking at a meeting of the Zanu-PF central committee ahead of the congress, Mr Mnangagwa reiterated calls to end Zimbabwe’s economic and political isolation, which he blamed on Western sanctions designed to punish human rights abusers.
"We call for the unconditional lifting of the political and economic sanctions, which have crippled our national development,” he said on Thursday.
"We realise that isolation is not splendid or viable as there is more to gain through solidarity, mutually beneficial partnerships," he added.
The US has maintained travel bans and financial restrictions against scores of prominent Zimbabwean, including Mr Mnangagwa and members of the security services, since 2002.
The EU lifted similar sanctions in 2014, except those against Mr Mugabe, his wife Grace Mugabe, and Defence Force Industries, a state-owned arms company.
About 6000 delegates from all over Zimbabwe will gather at the congress under vast white tents in Harare for the congress on Friday.
They are expected to formalise Mr Mnangagwa’s appointment as their party leader and confirm him as the Zanu PF candidate for presidential elections next year.
He may also use the congress to appoint his two vice presidents.
General Constantino Chiwenga, the head of the armed forces and the leader of last month’s largely peaceful coup, is hotly tipped for one of the roles
Mr Mnangagwa on Thursday appeared to hint that next year’s election, which must be held by August 2018, may be brought forward to spring.
"The Government will do all in its powers to ensure that the elections are credible, free and fair…..These elections are nearer than what you expect,” he said
The Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition party, has called for the United Nations to run the poll in order to ensure a free and fair election.
Although he has promised a transparent vote, Mr Mnangagwa previously made it clear that the Zimbabwean electoral commission will run the poll as usual.
Many believe he will continue with Mr Mugabe’s ban on all but African election observers.
Human rights groups have called on the US to maintain its restrictions on senior Zanu PF individuals until after the vote.
Dewa Mavhinga, the head of Human Rights Watch in southern Africa, told the US Senate in an address this week that Washington should “maintain existing US policy toward Zimbabwe until the military removes itself from politics and the 2018 elections are legitimately assessed to be peaceful, transparent, free and fair and that power is smoothly transmitted to the newly elected government. ”
Human rights groups have also expressed concern about the treatment of some of Mr Mnangagwa’s political rivals in the wake of last month’s coup.
Grace Mugabe, the former first lady and Mr Mnanagagwa’s main rival for the succession, was expelled from the party along with several of her senior political allies when Mr Mugabe was deposed in November.
Their bank accounts have been frozen and several were arrested and charged with corruption.
Zanu PF issued a notice this week pointing out that anyone wearing Zanu PF regalia, was committing a “criminal offence” if they were not members of the party.
The announcement came after photos appeared on social media of three well-known members of the Zanu PF faction which used to support Mrs Mugabe wearing hats with ED – Mr Mnangagwa’s initials – printed on them.
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