The head of the European Union election observer mission to Zimbabwe has called his deportation by the Zimbabwe authorities "a particularly unfortunate twist" in the dispute between the two sides. Pierre Schori left Harare late Saturday after his visa was abruptly withdrawn.
Mr. Schori told a news conference shortly before his departure for London that after he arrived in the country a week ago the government had ordered him not to make public statements or speak to the media, because he was only allowed in as a tourist.
The EU observer mission leader called the restriction "surprising and unacceptable" and said, in his words "speaking to the press is still not illegal in Zimbabwe."
Mr. Schori said the Zimbabwe government had been told by the European Union that he was coming to the country as head of the observer mission. He said he felt sorrow rather than anger at being forced out. He said most Zimbabweans earnestly desire that relations with the European Union should continue to "deepen and flourish."
Mr. Schori said he is due to report back to the Council of Foreign Ministers in Brussels on Monday. He declined to comment on the possibility of targeted sanctions being applied by the EU to President Robert Mugabe and senior advisors.
Mr. Schori said 30 other European observers who have been registered for the March 9 and 10 poll are staying, but their deployment throughout the country is being delayed.
Diplomats in Harare say the observers are waiting for a decision from foreign ministers in Brussels.
Violence continues in the country in the run-up to next month's election. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change says that militants of the ruling ZANU PF party disrupted a campaign rally in Harare on Saturday and beat up a number of people.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is the main challenger to Mr. Mugabe in next month's election.