9 July 2003

South Africa: Bush Evokes Mixed Reactions On SA Visit

Pretoria — United States President George W Bush's South African visit clearly pleased the Pretoria government on Wednesday, while scores of protesters condemned his presence in the country.

As Bush gave his blessing in Pretoria to President Thabo Mbeki's much-criticised "quiet diplomacy" on Zimbabwe, he was maligned at the US embassy a short distance away.

"Go away, we've got enough Bushes in Africa," read a poster waved around in an anti-American demonstration at the embassy.

At the Presidential Guest House, Bush denied tension existed between him and Mbeki on how Zimbabwe's problems should be tackled.

Describing Mbeki as the point man in the matter, he told reporters: "I have no intention of second-guessing his tactics."

Bush was speaking after holding talks with Mbeki on a range of issues.

The two leaders emerged smiling, with no sign of earlier apparent differences between the two countries on Zimbabwe.

Late last month, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said South Africa should "play a stronger role that fully reflects the urgency of Zimbabwe's crisis".

In reaction, South Africa reiterated its stance that outsiders could not impose a solution on Zimbabwe.

Asked about the issue on Wednesday, Mbeki said: "We are absolutely of one mind... about the urgent need to address the political and economic challenges of Zimbabwe."

Bush said the US would continue to speak out if people's freedoms were being taken away. But Mbeki was in touch with both parties involved in Zimbabwe's problems.

"He (Mbeki) is -- he believes -- making good progress. And the US supports him in this effort."

It also emerged that the two countries would work together to ensure that South Africans benefited from a US15-billion allocation to fight HIV/Aids.

Another issue that came up related to giving the poor access to cheaper medicine.

Bush said: "We will continue to work with South Africa ... to see if can reach a common-sense policy on that."

The Pretoria demonstrations were not the only outpouring of anti-Bush sentiments.

In Cape Town, about 1,500 people braved a blustery winter's day to voice their opposition to his visit.

Supporters of the African National Congress and its tri-partite alliance partners were among those who joined the protests, with about 200 marching in Pretoria.

In a memorandum presented to US embassy staff, they accused Bush's government of "flagrant disregard for the basic principles of international law".

Slating US policies towards Cuba, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan, it said: "We call on the US to respect the right of all nations to determine their own future, free from any external military, economic or other pressure."

At the Presidential Guest House, Bush defended his decision to initiate the war on Iraq.

"There is no doubt in my mind that (toppled Iraqi president) Saddam Hussein was a threat to world peace," he said.

The Anti-War Coalition also staged a demonstration at the US embassy, as did the Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

The MDC urged Bush to intervene to end the crisis in their country.

Bush leaves for Botswana on Thursday morning but will return to South Africa in the afternoon to spend the night in a Pretoria hotel.

His final farewell to South Africa will be on Friday morning when he leaves for Uganda. The last stop on his tour is Nigeria./wj

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