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Rice, Odinga, Lament Election Abuses in Zimbabwe


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga Wednesday condemned action against opposition politicians in Zimbabwe in advance of that country's June 27 presidential run-off election. Mr. Odinga called for the dispatch of an international peacekeeping force to Zimbabwe. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Bush administration has said it would support the holding of the run-off as scheduled, as long as Zimbabwe's opposition leaders are still ready to participate.

But Prime Minister Odinga is taking a much harsher line, saying that Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has made a sham of the proceedings, and that a Bosnia-style international force should be sent to Zimbabwe so that free elections can "eventually" be held.

Both Rice and the Kenyan leader spoke to reporters about Zimbabwe as they began a set of talks here in Mr. Odinga's first Washington visit since the resolution of Kenya's post-election political crisis earlier this year.

In the June 27 Zimbabwe run-off, President Mugabe faces opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The run-off campaign has been marred by violence and, among other things, the recent jailing of MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti on treason charges.

Rice, asked what South African President Thabo Mbeki should tell Mr. Mugabe on his current visit to Harare, said it is time for all African leaders to take a firm stand for Zimbabwean democracy.

"We are trying to support the efforts of regional organizations to ensure free and fair elections," she said. "But it is very difficult when you have the kind of intimidation that is going on now in Zimbabwe. And so I think that it is time for the leaders of Africa to say to President Mugabe that the people of Zimbabwe deserve a free and fair election, that you cannot intimidate opponents, you cannot put opponents in jail you cannot threaten them with charges of treason, and be respected in the international community."

Rice said she would co-chair with Djibrill Yipene Bassole, her foreign minister counterpart from Burkina Faso, a roundtable discussion at the U.N. Security Council Thursday that she hopes will would focus world attention on the Zimbabwe situation.

In his remarks, Prime Minister Odinga bitterly criticized President Mugabe, saying that his recent comments that he would not hand over power in the event he lost the run-off are an embarrassment to all of Africa.

"We cannot have free and fair elections when opponents are being beaten up, when the secretary-general of the opposition party is in detention on very flimsy charges of treason," he said. "So my view is that the time has come for the international community to act on Zimbabwe in a way that it did in Bosnia. I do not think were going to get free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, and what we need in Zimbabwe is an international peacekeeping force so that eventually proper elections can be held."

Mr. Odinga said part of his current mission to Washington is to underscore to Americans - tourists and potential investors - that Kenya is "back in business" and safe after its political crisis and wants to move forward.

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