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US Doubts Fairness of Zimbabwe Vote

The United States says there are numerous signs that Zimbabwe's presidential and parliamentary elections Saturday will not be free and fair. U.S. diplomats posted in Harare will monitor the voting. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The United States has been bitterly critical of recent elections in Zimbabwe, that were said to have been rigged in favor of President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party. State department officials say there are ample advance signs that Saturday's voting will be similarly tainted.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S officials have noted multiple pre-election irregularities, including violations of an African-brokered election-rules accord reached between the Mugabe party and the opposition Movement for Democratic change, the MDC.

"We have observed in the run-up to the election inaccurate voter rolls including the presence of dead or non-existent voters, considerable over-production of ballots, the absence of independent observation of postal voting to prevent multiple voting, inadequate polling stations in urban areas for the large numbers expected to vote, and the permission of police forces to be present inside polling stations in contravention of an agreement reached between ZANU-PF and the MDC as part of the SADC negotiations," he said.

McCormack said the factors noted raise "big question marks" about the integrity of the electoral process. He said about 10 officials of the American embassy in Harare will deploy at polling stations around the country to observe the actual vote and that an official U.S. assessment can be expected soon after the polling ends.

Earlier this week, the State Department issued a similar list of concerns compiled by independent monitoring groups and called on the Zimbabwe Election Commission to address what were termed the "significant shortcomings."

Despite the cited obstacles, including intimidation of opposition and civil society groups, the State Department said it encouraged all Zimbabweans to exercise their democratic right to vote in a peaceful and orderly manner.

In the presidential voting, President Mugabe faces two opponents - MDC leader Morgan Tsvangerai and ruling party defector Simba Makoni -- in what is widely depicted as the biggest election challenge in his 28 years of rule.

If no contestant gets an outright majority of the vote Saturday, there will be a second round of voting three weeks later.