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Page last updated at 07:04 GMT, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 08:04 UK

UN: Free Zimbabwe poll impossible

Morgan Tsvangirai (22/06/08)
Mr Tsvangirai spent a second night in the Dutch embassy

The UN Security Council has unanimously condemned the violence and intimidation against Zimbabwe's opposition party.

In a statement, the 15-member body said a free and fair presidential run-off vote on Friday would be "impossible".

Opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai said he would leave the Dutch embassy in Harare over the next 48 hours.

The Movement for Democratic Change leader took refuge there on Sunday night after pulling out of the poll saying he did not want more bloodshed.

He told Dutch radio on Tuesday that the Netherlands ambassador had received assurances from the Zimbabwean government about his safety.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said Friday's election should be delayed, but Zimbabwe's UN envoy insisted it would go ahead.

The British-drafted UN statement is much-watered down from an earlier draft version, but it is the first time that South Africa, Russia and China have agreed to criticise President Robert Mugabe's government.

UN SECURITY COUNCIL
Five permanent members: US, China, France, Russia, UK
10 non-permanent members: Belgium, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Indonesia, Italy, Libya, Panama, South Africa, Vietnam

"The Security Council condemns the campaign of violence against the political opposition," says the statement.

It continues by saying that the campaign "has resulted in the killing of scores of opposition activists and other Zimbabweans, and the beating and displacement of thousands of people, including many women and children.

"The Security Council regrets that the campaign of violence and the restrictions on the political opposition have made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place on 27 June."

Zimbabwe's ambassador to the UN defends the Mugabe government

The US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad said the Security Council was sending a strong message to Mr Mugabe.

"We were able to get a unanimous statement, sending a clear message that we all want to help the people of Zimbabwe, that there is a need for establishing a legitimate order," he said.

Zimbabwe's ambassador to the UN said the vote would go ahead as planned.

"As far we are concerned, the election will take place on Friday," Boniface Chidyausiku said. "The legitimacy of any election comes from the people of Zimbabwe.

"Should the people of Zimbabwe decide, whoever they elect, that's their sovereign right and there is nobody who can say: 'You have made the wrong decision - you should've elected another candidate'."

'Challenge to stability'

Earlier on Monday, UN Secretary General Mr Ban called on Zimbabwe to postpone the run-off election.

He said holding the vote as scheduled would only "deepen divisions within the country and produce a result that cannot be credible".

Robert Mugabe - 20/6/2008
President Mugabe blames the opposition for the election violence

He said: "Conditions do not exist for free and fair elections right now in Zimbabwe. There has been too much violence, too much intimidation."

He said he had discussed the issues with a number of African leaders, and advised President Mugabe to postpone the election until the right conditions were in place for people to vote freely and fairly.

Mr Ban added that what happened in Zimbabwe had significance beyond its borders and was the "single greatest challenge to regional stability".

On Monday, more than 60 MDC supporters were arrested at the party's Harare headquarters.

The BBC's world affairs editor, John Simpson, who is in Harare, says few people in Zimbabwe even know that Mr Tsvangirai has withdrawn from the race, because the country's official media mention him and his party as little as possible.

He adds that Mr Mugabe is on course for a remarkable sweeping victory, when only three months ago he seemed to be on the ropes.

Mediation efforts

The MDC won the parliamentary vote in March, and claims to have won the first round of the presidential contest outright. According to official results, Mr Tsvangirai was ahead of Mr Mugabe but failed to gain enough votes to avoid a run-off.

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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South African President Thabo Mbeki has been leading efforts by Zimbabwe's neighbours in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) to mediate an end to the crisis.

Mr Mbeki is reported to be trying to arrange a meeting between Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai for talks on cancelling the election run-off and forming a government of national unity.

Mr Tsvangirai has said pressure from the UN and Sadc could force Mr Mugabe to give up power.

"My assessment is that if there is a collective position by all Sadc leaders, that would be sufficient pressure - that voice is essential," he told US National Public Radio.

Mr Mugabe has hit back at his international critics, accusing Western countries of lying about Zimbabwe in order to justify an intervention.

"Britain and her allies are telling a lot of lies about Zimbabwe, saying a lot of people are dying," Tuesday's edition of the pro-government Herald newspaper quoted Mr Mugabe as saying.

"These are all lies because they want to build a situation to justify their intervention in Zimbabwe."


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