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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush, Mbeki Talk Zimbabwe

PRETORIA, South Africa -- U.S. President George W. Bush urged South Africa's Thabo Mbeki on Wednesday to step up pressure on Zimbabwe, saying it was time for a "return to democracy" amid a mounting crisis under President Robert Mugabe.

Bush said he discussed the "very sad situation" in Zimbabwe with the South African president, during more than an hour of talks also touching on trade, HIV/AIDS, and Liberia's crisis.

"In Zimbabwe I've encouraged President Mbeki and his government to continue to work for the return of democracy in the country," Bush told a joint news conference in Pretoria, on the second leg of his five-nation African tour.

But Bush denied there was tension between him and Mbeki over South Africa's northern neighbor. He said he would not second-guess the South African leader, who has advocated a policy of "quiet diplomacy" toward Mugabe to resolve the country's ills.

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has praised Bush's tougher approach and accused African leaders like Mbeki of displaying "solidarity with dictatorship."

Bush arrived in South Africa late Tuesday from Senegal, where he told West African leaders he would help to end Liberia's civil war but that he had not yet decided on sending peacekeeping troops.

In South Africa, Bush, accompanied by Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, discussed a range of issues with Mbeki and his aides, including economic ties and Washington's war on terror.

Bush and Mbeki said relations were warm between the United States and South Africa -- which had disagreed sharply over Washington's war on Iraq.

In a rare sign of pro-Bush sentiment on a continent still dubious about the U.S.-led war, about 100 supporters of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change gathered outside the U.S. embassy in Pretoria to thank Bush.

"Bush, Like Iraq, Save Zimbabwe" read one poster held by demonstrators, who sang and waved under the watchful eyes of police wearing full riot gear.

The United States and the European Union criticized Mugabe's re-election last year as flawed, and Powell recently urged a more aggressive approach in an editorial in The New York Times.

But even before Wednesday's talks, Mbeki said he would not have "anything new" to tell Bush on Zimbabwe.

"In our view a solution to the problems of Zimbabwe must come from the leadership of Zimbabwe," he told the South African Broadcasting Corporation in an interview Tuesday.

Bush and Mbeki did not publicly touch on the biggest bone of contention between the two, the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

South African opposition to the war has been expressed most bluntly by former President Nelson Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who said Bush was wrong to go to war without UN approval.

Pointedly, Mandela will be abroad during Bush's visit, but several groups including the ruling African National Congress said they would protest Bush's presence in the country.

Pretoria has also been annoyed by a U.S. decision last week to include South Africa in a list of 35 countries that will no longer receive military aid because of its refusal to sign an agreement exempting U.S. citizens from possible prosecution by the new International Criminal Court.

Bush's Africa trip is aimed at promoting democracy and economic development on the continent, and spotlighting U.S. initiatives to fight AIDS and terrorism.

With an estimated 4.8 million people believed to have the HIV virus that causes AIDS, South Africa has more sufferers of the disease than any other country.

Bush takes a day trip to Botswana on Thursday, then leaves Pretoria on Friday for Uganda and Nigeria. He wraps up his African trip in Nigeria and returns to Washington on Saturday.