International Papers

A President More Sinning Than Sinned Against

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s increasingly autocratic actions have put that nation in the spotlight. Last weekend, Mugabe postponed parliamentary elections from April until sometime in May. The official explanation was that the electoral rolls are out-of-date, but African and British newspapers claim that he’s buying time to compete against the newly viable opposition, Movement for Democratic Change, which threatens his Zanu-PF Party for the first time in more than 20 years.

Zimbabwe’s most high-profile crisis is the wave of seizures of white-owned farms by black squatters, many of whom are veterans of the war against white rule in the 1970s. Zanu-PF promotes the redistribution of white-owned land to black Zimbabweans, but a national referendum on the plan was defeated in February—the first real indication of the opposition’s strength. Mugabe has supported the expropriations anyway, refusing to obey court orders to oust the thousands of squatters who have seized almost 800 properties—around 20 percent of white-owned commercial farms, according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph. A white farmers group told South Africa’s Independent that “the failure of the police to enforce laws against trespassing, violence and malicious damage has plunged the farming districts into anarchy,” and they accused Mugabe of supporting the squatters in exchange for their votes. The Guardian of London also suggested that he may be stirring up the crisis “to justify imposing an emergency and suspending the democratic process.” The Telegraph reported Tuesday that more than 1.12 million acres of land that were compulsorily purchased from whites have been distributed to “well-connected Zimbabweans, many of them political allies of President Mugabe.” The cronies included the attorney general, ministers, members of parliament, judges, and a retired general. The Financial Gazette of Zimbabwe concluded Thursday, “the government is increasingly and openly demonstrating its disdain for the rule of law.”

The country also faces hyperinflation, and the ailing economy is further stretched by the cost of Zimbabwe’s involvement in the Congo war, where it has 11,000 soldiers supporting President Laurent Kabila. Mugabe’s spin on British criticisms: “These are the gays of Blair’s government talking. They are angry with us because we are critical of his gay philosophy and gay way of life and they would reach for anything against Zimbabwe.” (As it happens, the harsh words had come from opposition Conservatives.) A leader in the Guardian compared him to “a latterday Lear. Africa’s angry old man plunges blindly on, deaf to all advice, the victim of imagined conspiracies and betrayals, still fighting the colonial battles of his youth. The problem is how to stop his unredeemed tragedy becoming Zimbabwe’s.”

The likelihood that Gen. Augusto Pinochet will be prosecuted in Santiago for atrocities committed during his regime was reduced when the Chilean Congress passed a constitutional amendment giving former presidents absolute immunity from prosecution, the Daily Telegraph reports. The amendment will become law unless socialist President Ricardo Lagos vetoes it, an unlikely move since Lagos needs to protect his governing coalition. Pinochet is currently protected by senatorial privilege, but attempts are underway to strip him of his office as a senator-for-life. The Santiago Times stated Tuesday that there were 77 lawsuits pending against Pinochet, though a story Wednesday reported the addition of two other criminal complaints.

Taiwanese president-elect Chen Shui-bian chose current Defense Minister Gen. Tang Fei to serve as prime minister in the new regime Wednesday. According to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, “The appointment came as a surprise to many, not only because of his status as a mainland-born KMT loyalist but also because he is a former military commander.” The SCMP reminded that when Chen’s predecessor, Lee Teng-hui, nominated a former military officer as his premier 10 years ago, there were demonstrations protesting “military rule.” The Hong Kong Standard said the appointment was “aimed at ensuring political stability and Taiwan’s security” and added, “As a mainland-born KMT member, Mr Tang’s appointment is likely to ease concerns among the island’s mainlander community and secure support from the outgoing ruling party for Mr Chen’s reform policies.” Gen. Tang’s appointment will not be official until he receives approval from the Kuomintang Party.

In downtown Oslo, the Muslim call to prayer (“Allah Akhbar”—”God is the greatest”) will soon be accompanied by broadcasts of “God does not exist,” courtesy of the Norwegian Pagan Society. South Africa’s Star reported that the group sought permission to broadcast its message because, “The church bells and the preaching from the mosques have taken over the public space, we want to be able to do the same.” In 1994, when Norway commemorated a millennium of Christianity, atheists unfurled a banner reading, “A thousand years are more than enough.” According to the Norwegian constitution, the monarch and at least half the government ministers must be Lutherans.