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Page last updated at 07:12 GMT, Monday, 23 June 2008 08:12 UK

Zimbabwe under pressure over poll

President Robert Mugabe (right) greets his supporters in Bulawayo. File photo
Mr Mugabe has said the MDC will "never, ever" rule Zimbabwe

International criticism is mounting on Zimbabwe after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of a presidential run-off because of pre-poll violence.

Zambia's leader Levy Mwanawasa, who heads a regional bloc, said a vote held in current conditions would be an "embarrassment" to the region.

The US urged UN action over President Robert Mugabe's "illegitimate" regime.

Zimbabwe's ruling party said opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had withdrawn from the poll to avoid "humiliation".

KEY POLL COMPLAINTS
Violence: 86 killed, 200,000 displaced
MDC rallies banned
MDC leaders arrested, harassed
Food aid not given to opposition areas
State media refused MDC adverts
Zanu-PF supporters to be used as election officials

"The people of Zimbabwe had declared war against any interest which seeks to recolonise this country," Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told the BBC.

"But it has also been clear that Tsvangirai has not been ready for the run-off. He has set out to run a sprint, and it has turned out that in fact it is a marathon."

President Mugabe and Zanu-PF blame the opposition for political violence across the country, although the veteran leader said last week that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would "never, ever" be allowed to rule Zimbabwe.

Government officials said the run-off vote would go ahead, unless Mr Tsvangirai submitted a formal letter of withdrawal.

'Scandalous'

The MDC says some 86 supporters have been killed and 200,000 forced from their homes by ruling Zanu-PF party militias.

Reacting to the MDC's decision, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa said the poll must be postponed "to avert a catastrophe in the region".

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

He called on the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) to take a similar stance, saying that Zimbabwe had failed to meet minimum election campaign standards.

"It's scandalous for Sadc to remain silent on Zimbabwe. What is happening in Zimbabwe is embarrassing to all of us," President Mwanawasa said.

US officials said they were prepared to raise the issue with the UN Security Council.

HAVE YOUR SAY
MDC stands for Movement for Democratic Change. If the only recourse for the people to change a regime is armed conflict - the next regime will be no better than the last.
Matabele, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

White House spokesman Carlton Carroll said in a statement that "the Mugabe regime reinforces its illegitimacy everyday".

"The senseless acts of violence against the opposition as well as election monitors must stop," the statement said.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that unless the UN Security Council acted on the issue, it stood to lose credibility.

A statement from the office of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the elections had become a "travesty of democracy" and were "not worthy of the African continent of today".

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said an election without Mr Tsvangirai would be "the biggest denial of democracy that Africa has known".

Economic crisis

On Sunday, Mr Tsvangirai said that there was no point running when elections would not be free and fair and "the outcome is determined by... Mugabe himself".

Tsvangirai quits election race

He said that while the decision had been a difficult one it was necessary to protect the people of Zimbabwe. The opposition's decision came after its supporters, heading to a rally in the capital Harare, came under attack.

The BBC's Peter Biles says Mr Tsvangirai did not want to expose his supporters to any more violence.

He will now be hoping that Sadc will refuse to confer legitimacy on the process, he says.

Our correspondent adds that the country's economic crisis - with unofficial figures putting inflation at two million per cent - could drive Zimbabwe's government to negotiate for a political solution.

The MDC won the parliamentary vote in March, and claims to have won the first round of the presidential contest outright.

In the official results, Mr Tsvangirai led but failed to gain enough votes to avoid a run-off.


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