Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who won the most votes in the March 29 presidential poll, has pulled out of the second round of voting due Friday.  Peta Thornycroft reports from Harare that Mr. Tsvangirai said he cannot take part in the runoff because he does not want to legitimize Mr. Mugabe's war against the people of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says he is pulling out of Friday's presidential runoff because of mounting violence and intimidation against his supporters.

"We in the MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] have resolved that we will no longer participate in this violent, illegitimate sham of an election process," he said.

Mr. Tsvangirai said President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF had done everything they could to discredit the poll.  

The MDC candidate said too many had died, and too many had been displaced.  He said the violence meant people had been given a choice, to vote for Zanu PF or die.

Mr. Tsvangirai won the first round of the presidential election on March 29, but the Zimbabwe Election Commission said he did not gain an outright majority.  The MDC also won the parliamentary elections and most local government elections.

The runoff election campaign has been overshadowed by violence and intimidation, especially in rural areas.  Human-rights groups say at least 85 people have died and tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes, most of them opposition supporters.

Mr. Tsvangirai criticized the Zimbabwe Election commission for failling to ensure election laws were followed.  He called for the African Union, and all regional and international organizations, including the United Nations to intervene to ensure that peaceful elections could take place soon.

The opposition leader announced his decision after militants loyal to President Robert Mugabe blocked the site of the MDC's main campaign rally.   Men dressed in Zanu-PF T-shirts, and some armed with dangerous weapons, including guns, were harassing and beating people near the site of the rally at the Harare Showgrounds.

Observers from the Southern African Development Community SADC remained in their hotel and journalists who tried to go to the rally site were shot at.  Several people were grabbed off the streets in one suburb and forced to attend an impromptu Zanu-PF rally.

Some voters who support Mr. Tsvangirai say they are relieved that he has pulled out.  Others say this will not stop Mr. Mugabe's campaign of violence and that he will carry on until the MDC has disappeared altogether.

The Associated Press reports Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said the runoff would go ahead and would prove Zimbabweans' support for Mugabe, who has held power since independence from Britain in 1980.  
SADC observers appeared confused about the MDC announcement.  Some said they would stay in Zimbabwe and try to protect people, others said they believed they would now be withdrawn.

South African diplomats said they did not know in advance that Mr. Tsvangirai would pull out of the runoff.