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South Africa's Mbeki silent on Mugabe rap

South Africa's Mbeki silent on Mugabe rap
File photo of Thabo Mbeki at the United Nations dated Sept. 22, 2004. (UPI Photo/Monika Graff) | License Photo

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, June 26 (UPI) -- Amid broad attacks on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, a man diplomats say could help defuse the issue, South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, is silent.

Nelson Mandela, who the urbane, shrewd and complex Mbeki succeeded as president, finally broke his silence on the eve of the violence-tainted presidential runoff election, and lashed out at Mugabe in London Wednesday for a "tragic failure of leadership." He said he hoped Mbeki would follow suit.

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But, Mbeki remains relatively quiet, refusing to criticize Mugabe publicly, risking a great deal to seemingly coddle a dictator, the Chicago Tribune reported from Johannesburg.

Some of the criticism from African allies heaped on Mugabe is splashing on Mbeki as well for his stubborn non-action, brought on, reports say, by an overriding desire for negotiation.

Diplomats said Mbeki is widely regarded as an essential player in preventing an implosion in Zimbabwe and believe only he could ramrod a foreign-devised rescue plan for the tottering nation.

A Mbeki spokesman said, "We have elected to engage directly with the Zimbabwean leadership, not to play to the gallery."

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