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US 'Disappointed' Over Curbs on Media, Observers for Zimbabwe Election

The United States says it is disappointed over restrictions on media coverage and outside observers for Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections to be held Thursday. The State Department said Tuesday it is encouraged, however, that the campaign has been relatively free of violence.

The State Department says there are "numerous reasons for concern" about the conduct of an election which it says U.S. officials believe could be a "turning point" for Zimbabwe, if it was free and fair.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli noted with "disappointment" that the Harare government has not invited civil society election monitors from neighboring states. He also said it has not invited parliamentarians from the Southern African Development Community, SADC, which he said was "inexplicable and worrying."

In addition, Mr. Ereli lamented curbs imposed on international media reporting of the election and on local coverage by independent media outlets.

"They have cracked down on independent and international media and denied them access to the election campaign," he said. "You mentioned the Voice of America, the BBC I would also note that Zimbabwe's main independent newspaper the Daily News remains closed. It's inexplicable that this would be done during a national election campaign. I would also note another independent weekly newspaper was closed just last month."

Zimbabwe has barred outside correspondents from VOA, the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from covering the election, but has allowed in other foreign reporters, from among others, the New York Times, the Economist magazine and Britain's independent Sky Television.

A commentary in the government-controlled Zimbabwean newspaper The Herald said the three international broadcasters were being excluded for "vilifying the country."

Asked about the comment, a VOA spokesman said the U.S.-funded broadcaster reports the news accurately, objectively and comprehensively, and does not vilify.

State Department Spokesman Ereli also noted that millions of Zimbabweans living outside the country had been barred from voting. He said many of them had fled Zimbabwe to escape political repression and that even outside the country, as he put it, they remain disenfranchised. He said U.S. officials are encouraged by one development, that the Zimbabwean election campaign has been "largely nonviolent."

He also said the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, the MDC, has been allowed to hold campaign rallies in most parts of the country, which he said was a significant change from elections in 2000 and 2002.

Questioned on campaign remarks by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe this week that those who voted for the MDC would be "traitors," Mr. Ereli said the United States urges all parties to maintain a posture and rhetoric that support a peaceful election environment.