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State Department Criticizes Zimbabwe Elections - 2002-03-11

The United States has expressed concern that crowding at the polls prevented many Zimbabweans from casting ballots in the Presidential election. The U.S. is furthermore protesting as "harassment" the detention Monday of four U.S. diplomats who had tried to monitor the voting.

The State Department had criticized in advance of the vote about reductions in the number of polling places in Harare and other urban areas where opposition support was strong. And officials here are concerned that large numbers of city voters were unable to cast ballots even though polls were kept open for a third day. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher paid tribute to Zimbabweans who flocked to the polls by the thousands despite the impediments.

"Some of the people stayed in line for 20 hours or more determined to cast their votes. So we applaud the resolve of these Zimbabwean voters. They persevered in casting their votes under very trying circumstances," Richard Boucher said.

Mr. Boucher said the United States will protest "in the strongest terms" the detention by Zimbabwean police for several hours of four U.S. diplomats who had sought to observe election conditions in a town north of Harare. The Bush administration last month imposed travel sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and key aides because of government restrictions on election observers, and it is holding out the prospect of further penalties if the election is deemed to have been unfair.