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South African deputy hails Mugabe 'victory'
By Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor
SOUTH AFRICA congratulated President Robert Mugabe on his election victory yesterday, ignoring Commonwealth observers' damning criticism of the rigged poll and widening the rift between Africa and the West.
Jacob Zuma, South Africa's deputy president, was seen hugging Mr Mugabe as they exchanged clenched-fist salutes with the African liberation slogan: "Amandla" (Power).
Mr Mugabe claims to have polled 54 per cent of the vote, against Morgan Tsvangirai's 40 per cent.
It was the first sighting of Mr Mugabe since the election and the 78-year-old president appeared to stumble, adding to speculation that his failure to address the nation was because of ill health.
British officials said the European Union would consider stronger sanctions, including a ban on contacts with Zimbabwean ministers and freezing the assets of companies linked to Mr Mugabe's cronies.
But they admitted that what mattered to Mr Mugabe was South Africa's position. Mr Zuma's endorsement would have delighted him.
Britain and other western countries had hoped that the trenchant Commonwealth report would encourage South Africa to back his suspension.
Setting out a litany of violence and rule-bending, the Commonwealth observers concluded that "the conditions in Zimbabwe did not adequately allow for a free expression of will by the electors".
But South Africa's government observer mission had earlier ruled that the election was "legitimate".
Barring a last-minute change of heart by South Africa, the Commonwealth seems headed for a damaging black-white split.
Faced with the contradictory reports, Mr Zuma said that South Africa would take the Commonwealth report into account, but insisted: "We sent observers here, who were observing each and every detail.
They have reported . . . the elections were legitimate, are valid. They were free and fair and we have got to respect that."
In Pretoria, however, there were signs of confusion, with South African sources saying that President Thabo Mbeki hoped to convince Mr Mugabe to establish a government of national unity.
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, told Parliament: "We do not recognise the result or its legitimacy."
He added: "Robert Mugabe may claim to have won this election, but the people of Zimbabwe have lost