Page last updated at 10:45 GMT, Monday, 12 May 2008 11:45 UK

Zimbabwe election may be delayed

MDC supporters who said they had been beaten by pro-government youths
The MDC has frequently complained of intimidation

The second round of the country's presidential election may be delayed, says Zimbabwe's Electoral Commission.

Chairman George Chiweshe told the Sunday Mail newspaper that any delay was due to logistical problems.

He said it was unlikely the run-off could be held by 23 May, as laid down by law, but said they could extend the deadline "in certain circumstances".

The ruling party's Patrick Chinamasa said Zimbabwe would not bow to pressure to invite western election observers.

Opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai had said he would only stand if international observers and media were given full access to ensure the vote is free and fair.

He had also demanded the run-off take place within three weeks of the first-round results being declared - as per the electoral law.

Mr Tsvangirai - who beat President Robert Mugabe in the first round - is due home in the next few days. He has been in neighbouring countries since the first round because of alleged threats to his life.

Zimbabwe's government rejected any conditions for the run-off, but has previously allowed in election monitors from the regional group SADC.

'Possible arrest'

George Chiweshe said the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) was still waiting for funds to be allocated by the government to hold the poll.

election results

"It was ambitious for the legislature to think 21 days would be enough," he was quoted as saying.

Mr Chinamasa said Zimbabwe would not bow to pressure to invite election monitors from Western countries and the United Nations.

"We will not allow them," Zanu-PF's spokesman and justice minister in Mr Mugabe's last cabinet told the state-run Herald newspaper.

"We will think favourably of them if they lift sanctions. Until they do that, there is no basis to have any relationship with them."

Mr Chinamasa added that Mr Tsvangirai was free to come back but could not rule out the possibility that he might be arrested.

Earlier police said they had arrested nearly 60 supporters of the opposition MDC.

The activists were held on Thursday on suspicion of torching homes of members of the governing Zanu-PF in Shamva, north-east of Harare, the police said.

Mr Chinamasa said Zanu-PF would not allow an opposition victory, as this would be what he described as tantamount to slavery.

Stance softened

The MDC has frequently complained of intimidation, saying at least 25 of its supporters have been killed since the first round and hundreds have been forced from their homes in rural areas.

Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for close to 30 years

But police and officials from Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party have accused the MDC of staging attacks, saying it has exaggerated the scale of the violence.

In an apparent softening of his stance towards Mr Mugabe, Mr Tsvangirai said the veteran leader would be given the status of "father of the nation" if his 28-year rule ended.

Last month, Mr Tsvangirai said his rival should be put on trial for alleged war crimes.

According to official declarations, the opposition leader won 47.9% of the vote, against 43.2% for Mr Mugabe.

Although the first round was largely peaceful, the results were not announced until 2 May.

The MDC says the delay gave the authorities time to rig the counting and carry out attacks on its supporters.

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