Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has announced that presidential, general and local elections will be held on Saturday, March 29, following the dissolution of parliament on March 28, drawing fierce criticism from the opposition.

Mr. Mugabe set the date for the elections in an extraordinary edition of the official Gazette which was published late Thursday.

The announcement seemed to dash hopes for a revival of crisis talks which have deadlocked precisely over the question of the election date, on which Mr. Mugabe refused to compromise despite a personal intervention by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been mediating the talks on behalf of regional leaders.

The move also swept aside remaining hopes that more substantial electoral reforms based on accords coming out of the talks could be put in place ahead of the elections. Observers like the Zimbabwe Election Support Network have warned that elections held in March are unlikely to be free and fair.

Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported on the move and reactions in Harare.

Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic change faction led by MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the announcement deals a serious blow to the Pretoria talks.

Civic activists were also critical of Mr. Mugabe?s call for March elections. Zimbabwean election authorities have just conducted a massive redistricting exercise which added 90 elective constituencies bringing the total of parliamentary seats to 210. The report detailing the delimitation of constituencies in the country was submitted to parliament recently but even lawmakers have had limited access to the document. 

Senior Program Manager Pedzisai Ruhanya of the Crisis In Zimbabwe coalition said President Mugabe is determined to win the elections to such an extent that he has ignored sentiment even within his own ruling ZANU-PF party.

Ruhanya told reporter Patience Rusere that more time is needed to organize elections ? and for voters to register.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...