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Page last updated at 12:33 GMT, Monday, 23 June 2008 13:33 UK

Zimbabwean elections to go ahead

Opposition rally - photo 22 June
Mr Tsvangirai says he wants to protect his supporters from further violence

Zimbabwean officials have said a run-off presidential election will go ahead, despite the withdrawal of opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said Mr Tsvangirai's announcement was a ruse - he had not sent a formal notice yet.

Mr Tsvangirai said he would quit to curb violence by ruling party militias he says killed 86 of his supporters.

More than 60 opposition supporters have been arrested at the Harare office of Mr Tsvangirai's party, it says.

Movement for Democratic Change spokesman Nelson Chamisa said those arrested were women and children who had fled political violence.

ZIMBABWE AND ITS NEIGHBOURS

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Zimbabwe's opposition wants neighbouring countries to persuade Robert Mugabe to step down. So how are relations changing?

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South Africa's leader Thabo Mbeki remains the key mediator. He has not criticised Mr Mugabe, despite pressure from the ruling ANC.

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Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa called Zimbabwe a "regional embarrassment", before suffering a stroke on 29 June.

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Angola's President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is one of Robert Mugabe's closest allies. He has urged Mr Mugabe to end the violence.

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Botswana said Zimbabwe's 27 June run-off vote was so flawed by violence that it could not be considered legitimate.

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Namibia is an ally of Robert Mugabe. It wants to re-distribute white-owned farms to black villagers. It has not criticised the violence.

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Mozambique has hosted some white farmers forced out of Zimbabwe when their land was seized. It is seen as sympathetic to the opposition.

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Tanzania's ruling party has a history of backing Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party. Its foreign minister has condemned the violence.

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DR Congo's President Joseph Kabila is an ally of Robert Mugabe who sent troops to help his father, Laurent Kabila, fight rebels.

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Malawi is seen as neutral. But 3m people from Malawi are in Zimbabwe and many were badly hit by the farm invasions.

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He earlier said a negotiated settlement was the way forward, but violence must stop first.

But Mr Chamisa said the ruling Zanu-PF's militias should be disbanded, adding that his party had received no direct approaches from mediators since the announcement.

The move has sparked international criticism of Zimbabwe's government.

But President Robert Mugabe has blamed the MDC for the recent violence.

The leader of neighbouring Zambia, Levy Mwanawasa - who is head of the regional Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) - said a vote held in current conditions would be an "embarrassment" to the region.

Meanwhile, African Union Commission chairman Jean Ping said he was worried about the situation.

"This development and the increasing acts of violence in the run-up to the second round of the presidential election are a matter of grave concern to the Commission of the AU," he said.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

The US and UK have said they are prepared to bring Zimbabwe before the UN Security Council over the election violence.

But South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is mediating in the crisis, called for further dialogue.

"From our point of view it is still necessary that the political leadership of Zimbabwe should get together and find a solution to the challenges that face Zimbabwe," he said.

'Humiliation fear'

Zimbabwe's electoral commission said that preparations for the election were under way and a credible result was still possible.

Mr Chinamasa said Zanu-PF was not treating Mr Tsvangirai's "threats" to withdraw seriously.

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

"This is the 11th time that Tsvangirai has threatened to withdraw from the presidential run-off and on each occasion I have challenged him to put it in writing as required by the law," he said.

Mr Tsvangirai's announcement of withdrawal was to avoid "humiliation", he added.

"Tsvangirai went into the election thinking that it was a sprint and was not prepared for a marathon and wants to avoid defeat," he said.

"He spent his time globe-trotting and gallivanting in Europe and left MDC-T supporters without leadership."

There has been no response from Mr Mugabe himself to Mr Tsvangirai's announcement.

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".

He said that while the decision had been a difficult one it was necessary to protect the people of Zimbabwe.

The opposition's decision was announced 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.

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

He will now be hoping that the 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 2m% - 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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