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Merkel Presses African Leaders to Use Influence on Zimbabwe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged African leaders to take the lead and "use their influence" to find a solution to Zimbabwe's mounting political crisis and continuing violence.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Merkel with Liberian President Johnson Sirleaf in Berlin

Merkel spoke after meeting with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Berlin on Thursday, June 26. Merkel backed southern African leaders' call for Friday's presidential runoff vote in Zimbabwe to be postponed.

"We're watching the situation in Zimbabwe with bated breath and concern," Merkel said at a joint press conference with Sirleaf. "We hope African leaders will use their influence to rectify the situation."

Johnson Sirleaf, elected in late 2005 to lead the West African country out of the chaos of more than a decade of war, said African leaders had already taken a stand on Mugabe.

She pointed to the crisis meeting held in Swaziland by Zimbabwe's neighbours in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on Wednesday.

"African leaders put forth some proposals to Zimbabwe, to President Mugabe, essentially to put off the elections until some solution can be found, until some compromise can be reached between the opposition and the government," Johnson Sirleaf said.

Johnson Sirleaf said the issue would come up at an African Union summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt next week.

EU backs African call to postpone Zimbabwe polls

On Thursday, the European Union backed an African bloc's call to postpone the presidential run-off vote in Zimbabwe, saying the results of the poll would not reflect the will of the people.

Zimbabweans and South Africans demonstrate against election related violence in Zimbabwe in Johannesburg

Zimbabweans and South Africans demonstrate against election related violence in Zimbabwe in Johannesburg

In a statement, EU president Slovenia also expressed concern about violence that has dogged campaigning for Friday's election, which the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) wants delayed.

"Harassment of the opposition and the campaign of violence in the country have led to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's decision to withdraw from the second round of the presidential elections," the statement said.

"These circumstances cannot credibly lead to a result that reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people. Therefore, the presidency expresses its full support to the SADC call for the postponement of the second round of the elections."

The statement also called for an immediate halt to the violence and the release of political prisoners.

Zimbabwean opposition leader Tsvangirai

Zimbabwean opposition leader Tsvangirai pulled out of the poll because his supporters were targeted by Mugabe loyals

Tsvangirai topped the March 29 presidential poll but did not secure the required majority to claim outright victory, according to official results.

His withdrawal from round two amid the violence has left President Robert Mugabe, the 84-year-old hardliner who has held power since independence from Britain in 1980, with a victory by default.

Germany pledges funding to Liberia

The German government pledged substantial funding to Liberian infrastructure projects on Thursday.

"The people of Liberia have suffered terribly. They deserve the support of the entire international community," German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul said at the start of the Liberia 2008 Poverty Reduction Forum.

In Johnson Sirleaf's presence, Wieczorek-Zeul announced 15 million euros of funding for the the Liberia Reconstruction Trust Fund tasked with rebuilding the West African country's shattered infrastructure.

Germany is also waiving debts of 268 million euros owed by Liberia, which has since March been part of the "Heavily Indebted Poor Countries" debt-relief initiative launched by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in 1996.

Liberia shattered by civil war

At the forum, Liberian government representatives, international donors and other institutions were to discuss the challenges facing the country, including how to counter violence directed at women.

Demnächst UN-Einsatz in Liberia - Jugendliche Rebellen Kindersoldaten

Liberia has been scarred by civil war

Liberia descended into chaos in the late 1980s, and the forces of rebel leader Charles Taylor entered Monrovia in 1990. A decade-long civil war ensued with widespread atrocities.

Taylor, who had made himself president, went into exile in Nigeria 2003. He was handed over to the UN's Special Court for Sierra Leone after Johnson Sirleaf took office as democratically elected president in 2006.

Taylor, currently held in The Hague, faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by his forces in Sierra Leone.

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