Zimbabwe's ruling party has dismissed charges by the opposition that the government is plotting to assassinate its leadership prior to next month's presidential run-off elections.  The denial comes as the opposition expresses concern over growing violence in the country less than six weeks before the vote. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our Southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper Tuesday quoted the spokesman of the ruling ZANU-PF party, Nathan Shamuyarira, as saying that the allegations had no foundation whatsoever and were an attempt to obtain more funds from western backers.

The secretary-general of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Tendai Biti, made the charge Monday in Kenya.  He said Zimbabwean security forces had arranged for snipers to kill 30 members of the party's executive leadership.

MDC spokesman George Sibotshiwe had no comment on the denial but said a government-sponsored campaign of intimidation has killed 43 party supporters, hospitalized more than 100 others and driven thousands of people from their homes.

"The level of intimidation and the level of reprisals against the people has just spiraled up in the past week," he said. "Obviously the campaign has started.  But ? we cannot understand how we can even begin to consider an election at this stage."

The government of President Robert Mugabe has denied the accusations and said it would investigate.  The violence erupted after the March elections in which Mr. Mugabe came in second to Tsvangirai and ZANU-PF lost its majority in parliament for the first time since independence.

Human rights groups and western governments have expressed concern over the attacks and called for more international observers to monitor the upcoming vote.  However, the Zimbabwean government says only those observers invited to the first round, most from neighboring countries, could return.

Tsvangirai and many senior party leaders have been traveling outside Zimbabwe since the election.  He was due go home last week but postponed his return because of safety concerns.

Spokesman Sibotshiwe said the party wants its leader's return as soon as possible.

"The challenge is a security challenge but it is not something that we can fail to deal with," he said.   "We will have it secured and done in the next few days and the president should be going about his campaign as quickly as possible."

Zimbabwe's Electoral Commission announced a presidential run-off would be held on June 27 after declaring that Tsvangirai won 47 percent of the vote to Mr. Mugabe's 43 percent, three percentage points short of the majority needed to win in the first round.

However, the Commission withheld the results for five weeks leading to suspicions of irregularities.  The opposition also won a majority of seats in the parliament but both sides are contesting some 50 of these races.