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Zimbabwe Sets Date for Runoff Amid Increasing Violence

Zimbabwe has announced it will hold a delayed presidential run-off election on June 27. The announcement came Friday, just hours after Amnesty International warned that the violence in Zimbabwe is reaching crisis levels. Tendai Maphosa has more in this report for VOA from London.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the most votes in the first round on March 29, but not by enough to avoid a runoff vote with President Robert Mugabe.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party says the government and army have beaten and tortured MDC supporters in an attempt to either keep them away from the runoff or intimidate them into voting for the ruling party.

Tsvangirai said on Friday from Belfast, where he was attending a political conference, that "violence has to cease for an election to be conducted or that election will not be legitimate."

The announcement of the election showdown comes after Amnesty International joined the chorus of Zimbabwean and international human rights organizations and churches in condemning post-election violence in Zimbabwe. Amnesty says that the beatings, abductions, arson and killings in Zimbabwe have reached crisis levels. It says at least 22 deaths and more than 900 assaults have been recorded.

Amnesty says eyewitnesses blame supporters of President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, members of the army and so-called war veterans for the violence against perceived MDC supporters. Amnesty International's Simeon Mawanza says the violence has also taken another sinister turn.

"What is really worrying is a new development that we heard from this week where war veterans are going into communities and forcibly recruiting local youths to commit these human rights abuses," said Mawanza.

Mawanza adds that the recruitment is accompanied by threats of violence and the loss of land for those who benefited from the government's land reform program if they do not participate in the violence. He says the assaults are meant to punish those who voted for the opposition party and intimidate them into voting for Mr. Mugabe in the run-off.

"We are calling for an immediate end of this violence by the government of Zimbabwe and that the government particularly ZANU-PF leaders publicly denounce the violence and work with other political leaders to try to end this culture of violence," said Mawanza. "We are also calling on the international community particularly the SADC to put in place a mechanism that would check the current violence."

The Zimbabwean authorities say the level of the violence, which they blame on the MDC, is exaggerated.