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Group Alleges Zimbabwe Opposition Candidates Pressured Against Running in Upcoming Election - 2003-07-23

A human rights group in Zimbabwe says opposition candidates are being prevented from running in elections scheduled for next month.

In a statement Wednesday, the human rights group Lawyers for Human Rights expressed its concern that MDC candidates are being pressured not to run for office. In some cases, the group says, MDC politicians have been threatened with violence and in others they have been physically assaulted.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change says at least two MDC members who wanted to run for office have been attacked in recent days, with one suffering a broken neck. It also accuses militia members linked to the ruling ZANU-PF party gathering around registration areas to stop candidates from presenting papers to the nomination court.

MDC officials say more than 40 of their candidates have not been able to register.

The elections are to take place in small towns, where the MDC has considerable support.

In its statement, Lawyers for Human Rights says it is both unfortunate and sad that despite 23 years of independence, Zimbabweans could still not fully enjoy the right to vote, or be voted into public office, without the risk of violence.

The election authority has declared all seats where the MDC failed to register candidates as won unopposed by ZANU-PF.

The MDC says it plans to challenge the exclusion of its candidates in the court.

Meanwhile, African and western diplomats have responded positively to the decision by MDC legislators to attend President Robert Mugabe's address to the new session of parliament. The MDC had been boycotting Mr. Mugabe's opening speeches as a protest against his victory in last year's presidential election, which the MDC and many observers say was widely flawed.

The diplomats, speaking on the condition they are not identified, say the next step has to come from Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF.