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The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"The squatters do not think what they are doing is illegal"
 real 28k

UK Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook
"I emphasised our deep concern"
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Tuesday, 11 April, 2000, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Zimbabwe edges towards election
Police say they are unable to remove the squatters
Zimbabwe's parliament has met for the last time ahead of its dissolution, amid rising political tensions over illegal occupations of white-owned farms.

The legislature has come to the end of its five-year term, and its indefinite adjournment is the first concrete step towards fresh parliamentary elections, although no date has yet been set.

Parliamentary elections
Due 30+ days after parliament closes
And within four months
Three months still needed to fix election boundaries
120 elected seats; president appoints 30
A BBC correspondent in Harare says there are fears that with parliament no longer sitting, a political vacuum could develop that would add to unrest surrounding the land ownership dispute.

President Robert Mugabe is out of the country until the weekend attending the South Summit in Cuba.

Zimbabwe's main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change, is in South Africa raising election campaign funds.

President Mugabe has spoken of a parliamentary election date in May, but the preparations are said to be far from complete.

The body charged with fixing new constituency boundaries says it could be up to three months away from finishing its task.

Opposition rally
Political tensions have been rising as elections loom
Attacks by supporters of President Mugabe's Zanu-PF party have led increasing numbers of Zimbabwe's white farmers to abandon their homesteads.

Since February thousands of squatters - many of them veterans of the war of independence - have occupied hundreds of farms.

'Powder keg'

Opponents of the president say he is using the land issue to attract popular support after his unprecedented defeat two months ago in a referendum on a new constitution.

"Mugabe sent those war veterans on those land invasions," Mr Tsvangirai said during his South African visit.

"He has the national responsibility of restoring law and order. He has the national responsibility of removing those war veterans so that we can have an orderly land reform programme."

Tsvangirai: Mugabe should restore law and order
The 150-member assembly is dominated by Mr Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF movement and last week approved a bill empowering the government to seize hundreds of white-owned farms without paying compensation.

It put the responsibility for payment on the United Kingdom, the former colonial power in what used to be Rhodesia.

Parliament's dissolution comes a day after Zimbabwe police attempted to overturn a court order evicting the squatters from the farms, saying the force had no resources to enforce the measure.

Attorney-General Patrick Chinamasa warned the High Court that any attempt to evict the veterans could spark a civil war and described the nation as a "powder keg" waiting to explode. The court will rule on Thursday.

The move came as the European Union expressed its concern at the worsening situation and urged President Mugabe to end the occupations.

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See also:

11 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Mugabe is 'ethnic cleansing'
10 Apr 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe 'powder keg' warning
10 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Cook demands 'rule of law' in Zimbabwe
10 Apr 00 | Africa
Kenyan land grab call
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