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Western Observers Barred from Monitoring Zimbabwe's Elections


Zimbabwe has issued invitations to more than 40 countries and organizations to observe its national elections, on March 29. But Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA that Western countries, which observed Zimbabwe's elections eight years ago, have not been invited this time.

Zimbabwe's foreign minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi has invited countries which he said are allies.

The only European country invited to send observers is Russia. The European Union and the United States, regularly accused by President Robert Mugabe of plotting regime change, have not been invited.

The African Union has been asked to send a delegation. So has the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It was the SADC which asked South African President Thabo Mbeki to facilitate dialogue between the ruling Zanu PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The talks deadlocked in December and Zimbabwe goes into elections without the new constitution the MDC said was necessary to produce undisputed results.

So far, SADC has not announced whether it will send a team of observers from parliaments in the region to monitor Zimbabwe's elections.

South Africa has said it will send a delegation if asked. South Africa has judged all of Zimbabwe's elections since 2000 as credible and legitimate, even when some members of its observer teams were themselves victims of political violence ahead of the elections.

Other countries invited are China, Iran, Venezuela, Malaysia, India and Indonesia.

"Those who believe that the only free and fair election is where the opposition wins have been excluded since the ruling party, ZANU-PF, is poised to score yet another triumph," Foreign Minister Mumbengegwi was quoted as saying in Friday's edition of the state-controlled daily, The Herald.

The United States and European Union both imposed travel sanctions on Mr. Mugabe and most of the hierarchy of Zanu PF after the violent 2002 presidential election, which they said was rigged.

The MDC, which is split into two factions, has deplored the choice of observers. Innocent Gonese, the group's legal secretary who is loyal to founding MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai, told journalists in Harare that the exclusion of western observers shows "the government had a lot to hide."

For the first time, Zimbabweans will vote in four elections simultaneously - for the legislature, senate, local government and the presidency.

President Mugabe faces his stiffest challenge for the presidency in 28 years in power from two powerful candidates, Tsvangirai and former finance minister Simba Makoni.

The winner of the presidential poll must get at least 51 percent of the vote, an absolute majority, to avoid a second round of voting which must take place within 21 days after results are published.

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