Mugabe tightening grip on Zimbabwe – McGee

WASHINGTON — The U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe said Thursday that international pressure has failed to weaken Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe.

Western and African countries have been trying to persuade Mugabe with sanctions and isolation to follow through on a Sept. 15 power sharing agreement with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

But U.S. Ambassador James McGee said Mugabe shows no sign of following through on the agreement or buckling under pressure. "I think his grip on power may actually be stronger than it was this time last year," McGee told reporters by videoconference from Harare.

Tsvangirai won presidential elections in March but withdrew from a runoff after violence against his supporters – blamed on police, soldiers and Mugabe party militants. Mugabe went ahead with the runoff, which was denounced as a sham by observers at home and abroad.

Tsvangirai insisted that under the power-sharing deal, his party should be given ministries related to security, such as police, in any unity government. So far, only the finance ministry has been offered to the opposition.

McGee said that Mugabe has bolstered his power through a political patronage system that he has maintained despite dire financial and health conditions.

"He does have the absolute authority of the heads of the security forces," McGee said. Nevertheless, he said, change will have to come from political pressure within Zimbabwe.

While the political crisis continues, health conditions in the country have rapidly worsened, said McGee. He said the United States was working with aid groups to end rampant cholera outbreaks and malnutrition in the country.