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Zimbabwe's Mugabe Presses Friday Vote as Violence Spreads


Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe says he has not ruled out negotiations with the opposition MDC but elections must go ahead on Friday to meet a legal obligation. Meanwhile, reports are coming in from several parts of Zimbabwe that violence is continuing against opposition supporters. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA from Harare.

President Mugabe, 84, made it clear at a rally Tuesday that he won't refuse to negotiate with the opposition party, The Movement for Democratic Change, but he determined to hold the poll on Friday because, in his words, there is "only one thing for us to accomplish... it's the legal process on the 27th of June."

The MDC on Tuesday handed a letter to the electoral commission formally withdrawing from the presidential runoff. Tsvangirai said the election was rigged and his supporters face too much violence for him to keep running. He won the first round of voting on March 29, but lacked an outright majority against Mr. Mugabe.

Observers are worried that the violence will continue to spiral out of control. One ominous sign is the withdrawal of independent monitors who would be able to observe and protect voters at the polls.

As of Tuesday, 38 organizations say they have withdrawn after the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, or ZESN, said only 500 observers were able to get accreditation. There were more than 9,000 observers allowed to monitor the election on March 29.

ZESN said it received a letter from Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa on Friday saying that it would only be allowed 500 observers. As of Tuesday, the invitation for these 500 had not yet been received and ZESN said it could not fulfill its mandate to effectively observe the election.

Because the ZANU-PF said it is determined to hold a one-candidate election on Friday, many fear that ZANU-PF supporters will force people to vote by gunpoint.

The U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe said ample evidence shows Mugabe's government is waging a "widespread campaign of retaliation and threat" and spreading "fear, hostility and attacks" against its opponents.

Mugabe's government is no longer capable of holding a legitimate election, Pascoe told the council, and Mugabe's plan to push ahead with the runoff "would only increase divisions and produce discredited results."

Already, tens of thousands of Zimbabweans have been uprooted from their homes and 85 people have died in election violence, human rights groups say. Tsvangirai has repeatedly been detained by police and contended with warnings of a state-sponsored assassination plot. His top deputy was arrested on treason charges that carry the death penalty.

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