President Bush Monday appealed to African countries and others to "blanket" Zimbabwe with election monitors in the face of increasingly tough tactics by the Robert Mugabe government against the opposition. Mr. Mugabe faces opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in a presidential run-off vote June 27. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The White House appeal, and similar comments by the State Department, reflect growing worry among U.S. officials and other observers that President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party will seek to rig the runoff poll regardless of the cost to country's international standing.

The run-off campaign has been marred by the reported deaths of more than 50 opposition activists and the beatings of many others by pro-government militias.

Sunday police arrested two prominent opposition figures, one a newly elected member of parliament and the other an MDC factional leader who a month ago published an article critical of Mr. Mugabe.

In a written statement, President Bush deplored what he said was the use of government-sponsored violence, unwarranted arrests and intimidation,to prevent the MDC from campaigning freely in advance of the run-off.

Mr. Bush called on the Mugabe government to allow a free and open campaign and urged the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, the African Union, the United Nations and other international organizations to blanket the country with election and human rights monitors.

Earlier, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the world community has an obligation to act.

"It is incumbent upon us, as well as other members of the international system, to apply as much pressure and leverage as we possibly can to see that a run-off election is executed in such a way that people can actually vote their conscience, that they can vote for the candidate of their choice, that people are able to do so in an environment free of threat or intimidation, and that candidates have an opportunity to use the media, use whatever public media they would like to use to get out their message," said Sean McCormack.

SADC, a 14-nation southern African regional grouping, along with neighboring countries, South Africa and Botswana, have said they intend to increase their monitoring presence in Zimbabwe from the contingents provided for the March vote.

President Mugabe has depicted his opponent Mr. Tsvangirai as a stooge of foreign powers that want to restore white rule in Zimbabwe, and has threatened to expel U.S. ambassador Jame McGee for alleged political interference.

Asked if the State Department had a contingency plan for McGee's expulsion, McCormack said the whole U.S. diplomatic staff in Harare is focused in part or entirely on election issues and said the embassy will continue to speak out and be a "beacon for freedom."

In his statement, President Bush, noting Mr. Mugabe's presence at the UN food summit in Rome, also expressed concern about reports that "misguided government policies" could lead this year to one of the worst harvests in the Zimbabwe's history.

He said the United States, a major food aid contributor despite its differences with Mr. Mugabe, will continue efforts to prevent what he termed "government-induced starvation" in Zimbabwe.