Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has made a plea for peace in the upcoming elections. Zimbabwe's last elections in 2008 were disrupted by a campaign of violence by Mugabe's supporters against the opposition MDC party.
Addressing thousands of people in Harare Thursday to mark the country’s 33rd anniversary of independence, President Robert Mugabe pleaded with Zimbabweans to be peaceful as the country prepares for elections. "So I say you are all Zimbabweans. Go and vote your own way," he said. "No one should force you to vote for me. Peace begins with me, me Robert Mugabe, you and with everybody, with all of us.”
Zimbabweans approved a constitution last month as part of a process leading to the elections, expected to take place in the second half of the year.
The new constitution was a requirement of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC party and of regional leaders, who pressured Mugabe and Tsvangirai to form a coalition government after the disputed 2008 polls.
Those elections were marred by widespread violence. Tsvangirai has said about 200 of his supporters were killed by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party militia.
On Thursday, Mugabe said he hoped the West would lift sanctions imposed on him and some ZANU-PF party senior officials in 2002 because of alleged election rigging and human rights abuses.
Earlier this week, the visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Reuben Brigety, met Mugabe and said Washington is set to improve relations with Zimbabwe. “The United States is prepared to move towards full normalization of relations with Zimbabwe. We are prepared to do so consistent Zimbabwe meeting the benchmarks it has promised itself, it has promised the region in the context of the Global Political Agreement, starting with elections that are credible and are violence free," he explained. "We are anxious to see those elections unfold in that manner.”
The March constitutional referendum passed peacefully, with voters overwhelmingly approving the new charter. But observers fear violence and intimidation tactics may return for the elections.
Police have been confiscating radios that pick up foreign stations -- a measure that would force Zimbabweans to use state-run media, which generally support Mugabe.