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Zimbabweans think Obama told Mugabe to "unclench his fist"

This just came in from our correspondent in Harare, who cannot be named because of Zimbabwe's press restrictions:

"To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Those words by Barack Obama in his inaugural speech were taken by Zimbabweans to be addressed to President Robert Mugabe — who runs a corrupt system and silences dissent, who blames the country's problems on the West, who clings to power, who has destroyed the white commercial farming industry but has not built anything to replace it. And Robert Mugabe has used the clenched fist as a symbol of the power of his party, Zanu-PF.

So a cheer rose from the crowd at Harare's Quill Club (the local press club) when Obama called for the fist to be unclenched.

"Everyone here thought that was Obama's message to Bob (Mugabe). Up to now we are still discussing it. And tomorrow we will talk about it. Big time. That whole clenched fist passage fit Mugabe," said a Harare journalist.

The speech has raised people's hopes that Obama will take a hard stance towards Mugabe. They hope that Obama will be effective in pressing Mugabe.

"That was a strong statement, especially from an African-American. That should really make Bob worry," said a Zimbabwean journalist, downing the local beer. "I think he got the message loud and clear. A friend in the army said it was a strong message and everyone in the army took it as a warning to Mugabe."

Another Harare journalist confirmed that Obama's "unclench your fist" is widely taken as a message to Mugabe. "We all know Mugabe is tough and unbending. But if Obama and his team take a tough line, Mugabe is going to find himself in a tight corner."

The journalist was celebrating Obama's speech. "Obama has given so many inspiring speeches lately that I am all inspired out. I liked the speech he gave in Baltimore a few days ago. His speeches are well-constructed."

He said many journalists agreed that Obama was sending a message to Mugabe in his speech.

"Bush left Zimbabwe policy up to (former South African president Thabo) Mbeki. And Mbeki and other southern African leaders have been soft on Mugabe for years," he said. "But now Obama is going to get tough. We don't need Mbeki anymore because we have a more powerful black man who is going to take a hard line."