Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is considering whether to pull out of the June 27 presidential run-off election due to fears it will be a charade, a spokesman said on Friday.
A growing number of African nations, the United States and former colonial power Britain have said they do not believe the poll would be free and fair because of violence that the opposition blames on veteran President Robert Mugabe.
Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change says at least 70 of its supporters have been killed since he defeated Mugabe in a March 29 vote but fell short of the outright majority needed to avoid a run-off, according to official figures.
"There is a huge avalanche of calls and pressure from supporters across the country, especially in the rural areas, not to accept to be participants in this charade," MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told Reuters.
Chamisa later said that the MDC would decide on Monday whether to contest the poll.
Threats of arrests
Mugabe, 84, is fighting to cling onto power in the country he has ruled since independence in 1980. Once prosperous, its economy is now ruined and millions of Zimbabweans have fled the political and economic crisis to neighboring states.
Mugabe blames the election bloodshed on the opposition and has threatened to arrest MDC leaders.
Tsvangirai has been detained five times while campaigning this month and his lieutenant, Tendai Biti, is being held in custody on treason and other charges. A conviction could carry a death sentence.
A magistrate on Friday ordered that Biti, the MDC's secretary-general, remain behind bars until July 7, rejecting the party's bid to have him released.
"I'm of the view that there's reasonable suspicion to believe the accused committed the said offenses," Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe said in a Harare court.
European Union leaders were set to issue a new threat of further sanctions on Zimbabwe on Friday, a draft summit statement showed. The EU has an arms embargo on Zimbabwe as well as visa bans and asset freezes on Mugabe and other officials.
The EU text, obtained by Reuters before the final working session of the two-day summit, said a free and fair election was critical to the resolution of a political and economic crisis in the former British colony.
But it stopped short of backing U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's assertion on Thursday that actions by Mugabe's government meant the run-off will not be free and fair.
EU leaders urged the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the African Union to deploy a significant number of election monitors and called for a swift and transparent vote count this time after lengthy delays in the first round.
"The European Council reiterates its readiness to take additional measures against those responsible for violence," it said.
SADC, a group of 14 nations that includes Zimbabwe, is sending 380 monitors to Zimbabwe for the vote.
SADC ministers responsible for peace and security said on Thursday they doubted the election would be free after hearing initial reports from monitors, signaling growing impatience on the continent with Mugabe's authoritarian rule.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, mandated by the regional group to mediate in the crisis, visited Zimbabwe on Wednesday to discuss the crisis with Mugabe and the opposition.
Chamisa denied media reports that Mbeki had asked for the election to be cancelled in favor of a unity government.
"President Mbeki did not raise that issue. We raised the issue of electoral violence," Chamisa said, declining to provide further details on the meeting. A spokesman for Mbeki also declined to comment on the matter.
South African Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini told reporters in New York on Thursday that there was consensus on the need for the election results to reflect the will of Zimbabwean voters.
The political impasse threatens to worsen the economic crisis in Zimbabwe, which is struggling with inflation over 165,000 percent, 80 percent unemployment and chronic food and fuel shortages.