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Mbeki must act on Zim: Bush

President Thabo Mbeki must push harder for new elections and democratic rule in Zimbabwe, says United States President George Bush. Speaking during an interview with SABC television filmed at the White House earlier on Friday and broadcast in South Africa on Friday evening, Bush said Mbeki should insist the conditions necessary for Zimbabwe to become prosperous again were in place.

"Insist that there be elections. Insist that democracy rule. Insist that the conditions necessary for that country to become prosperous again are in place," Bush said. The US president was responding to a question on "what you would like to see President Thabo Mbeki do in Zimbabwe that he's not already doing?". The interview comes ahead of Bush's visit to South Africa and four other African countries next week. He will be the first sitting Republican president to make such a tour. His comments on Zimbabwe follow a recent call by US Secretary of State Colin Powell for South Africa to "play a stronger and more sustained role" in resolving matters in that country. Bush told the SABC he agreed with Powell's call.

"I certainly don't want to put any pressure on my friend (Mbeki). But Zimbabwe has not been a good case study for democracy in a very important part of the world. "And we hope that not only Mr Mbeki, but other leaders, convince the current leadership to promote democracy." Asked if he thought "quiet diplomacy" could work, Bush said he hoped any diplomacy would work, but so far it had not. He said Zimbabwe was a "bad example".

"Let me give you one reason why. There are a lot of starving people in Sub-Saharan Africa, yet Zimbabwe used to be able to growmore than it needed to help deal with the starvation. "We're a nation that is interested in helping people that are starving. We're going to spend a billion dollars this year on programmes to help the hungry. "It would be really helpful if Zimbabwe's economy were such that it would become a breadbasket again, a capacity to grow more food that's needed so that they could help deal with the hunger. "And yet the country is in such a condition that the agricultural sector of its economy is in shambles right now".

Questioned about the war against Iraq, and the reaction this had drawn from, among others, former president Nelson Mandela, Bush said: "I did the right thing." "My job is to make sure America is secure. And if some don't like the tactics, that's the nature of a free world where people can express their opinion. "I admire Nelson Mandela ... I just happen to disagree with him on his view about how best to secure America. "But you can be rest assured that if I think America is threatened, I will act," he said. On speculation the US is poised to send troops to join a multinational peackeeping force in strife-torn Liberia, Bush said he had not yet made a decision on this.

"We're in the process of determining the course of action necessary to see that peace and stability reign in Liberia, and some of our people are meeting with Ecowas (Economic Community of West African States) leaders today, and I haven't made a decision yet.

"The one thing that must happen is that Charles Taylor has got to leave. The condition for any kind of operation that stabilises the country is for Mr Taylor to leave the country, and hopefully we can achieve that objective diplomatically. "Colin Powell is working closely with (United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and others at the UN to prepare the groundwork if possible for Mr. Taylor's departure," Bush said.


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