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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 March, 2005, 10:55 GMT
Mbeki 'wrong' on Zimbabwe's poll
Presidents Robert Mugabe (l) and Thabo Mbeki (r)
Mbeki (r) is accused of being soft on Mugabe (l)
Zimbabwe's main opposition party has sharply criticised South Africa's leader for saying that this month's elections would be free and fair.

"It's wrong. President Thabo Mbeki is totally misinformed," an opposition spokesman told the BBC.

Mr Mbeki said that President Robert Mugabe's government had taken action to ensure a level playing field and there was no violence or intimidation.

South Africa is seen as a key player in efforts to end Zimbabwe's crisis.


As the regional power, it has considerable influence but Mr Mbeki has consistently refused to openly criticise Mr Mugabe, who is accused of using fraud and violence to ensure victory in the 2000 and 2002 elections.

Mr Mbeki insists that his policy of "quiet diplomacy" is more effective.

Zanu-PF supporter
The opposition say they cannot campaign freely, like Zanu-PF
But Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi told the BBC News website he was "stunned" to hear Mr Mbeki's comments in the run-up to the 31 March parliamentary election.

"He probably knows things that those of us who are on the ground do not know," he said.

"Trying to reward [the ruling] Zanu-PF by pre-empting the results on 31st is not helpful."

"Things like the independent electoral commission, things like access to the public media, things like the absence of violence and intimidation, those matters have been addressed," Mr Mbeki said on Wednesday.

But Mr Nyathi said the electoral changes were superficial.

For example, state media news broadcasts continue to ignore opposition rallies and give blanket coverage to Zanu-PF, he said, although he admitted that MDC adverts were now being broadcast.

Mr Nyathi said that there were fewer cases of physical violence in this campaign but said an MDC candidate had been abducted and beaten up last week.

He also accused the police of using their tough security powers in an overtly partisan way.

He said those who attacked MDC activists usually went unpunished, while opposition rallies were rarely authorised and Zanu-PF was allowed to campaign freely.

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