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US Calls for Peaceful Elections in Zimbabwe


The United States, on the eve of Zimbabwe's parliamentary election, urged a peaceful and transparent vote process there, free of fraud. The State Department said the campaign had been tilted in favor of the ruling party of President Robert Mugabe.

The United States has voiced abundant criticism of the Zimbabwe election campaign. But it has not gone as far as the European Union, which has dismissed the exercise in advance as phony and promised unspecified steps against the Mugabe government.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the campaign was tilted in favor of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, and that the opposition had been subjected to threats and intimidation.

He further decried the exclusion of civil society election observers from the region, curbs on international media coverage of the election process, the disenfranchisement of Zimbabweans living abroad, and what he said was the ruling party's near monopoly on domestic broadcasting.

But he said in spite of what he described as those troublesome elements, the campaign has been relatively non-violent when compared to others in the country's recent history, and said the United States will not make an overall judgment until the entire process is completed:

"We call on the government of Zimbabwe tomorrow to take every step necessary to insure that elections are peaceful, transparent, and free of intimidation and fraud. And we will base our assessment of the election results according to not only what has happened in the run-up to the election, but on the way the election is conducted tomorrow," he said.

Authorities in Harare have allowed some 500 election observers into the country, including delegations from the South African government and ruling ANC party. But organizations that have been critical of the Mugabe government in the past including the Commonwealth and the European Union have not been invited.

The Harare government has also been selective in admitting international media, excluding outside correspondents from the Voice of America and BBC, among others, while shuttering independent local newspapers, which the State Department said Tuesday was inexplicable during a national election campaign.

On the eve of the voting there were renewed media reports including a Washington Post newspaper account, that the Mugabe government was using food aid as an election tool.

Under questioning, spokesman Ereli said the U.S. understanding is that ruling party candidates have given out food to draw voters to rallies, a practice he described as despicable.

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