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U.N. declares fair Zimbabwe vote impossible

Outraged at the turmoil in Zimbabwe, the U.N. Security Council declared that a fair presidential vote is impossible because of the “campaign of violence” waged by Robert Mugabe’s government.
/ Source: news services

Outraged at the turmoil in Zimbabwe, the U.N. Security Council declared that a fair presidential vote is impossible because of the “campaign of violence” waged by President Robert Mugabe’s government.

The 15-nation council Monday unanimously said it “condemns the campaign of violence against the political opposition ahead of the second round of presidential elections,” which has resulted in the killing of scores of opposition activists and other Zimbabweans.

The move came after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the vote — reportedly fearing for his safety — and police raided his Harare headquarters, hustling away dozens of his supporters. Tsvangirai took refuge in the Dutch embassy.

George Sibotshiwe, a spokesman for Tsvangirai, said the politician had received a tip that soldiers were on the way to his home Sunday, after he had announced he was pulling out of a presidential runoff against President Robert Mugabe scheduled for Friday. Tsvangirai had said widespread, state-sponsored violence against his supporters made the vote impossible.

'Run for your life'
Sibotshiwe would not reveal the source of the tip, and said the soldiers' intentions were unclear.

But "the moment you have soldiers coming your way, you just run for your life," Sibotshiwe said. "The only way he can protect himself is to go to an embassy."

Sibotshiwe said other opposition leaders were also in hiding, among them Tsvangirai's campaign manager. Officials were no longer working out of the party's headquarters in Harare for fear of arrest, he said.

Tsvangirai's second in command, Tendai Biti, is jailed in Zimbabwe on treason charges, which can carry the death penalty.

Tsvangirai told Dutch national broadcaster NOS radio Tuesday that the Dutch ambassador had spoken to the Zimbabwean government and received assurances there was no threat to him. Tsvangirai said he might leave the embassy Tuesday or Wednesday, but Sibotshiwe said that could change.

"It's an unsure environment. You just never know what's going to happen tomorrow," Sibotshiwe said, adding he was concerned Mugabe would crack down even more in reaction to strong criticism from the U.N. Security Council.

Recent bloodshed widely blamed on supporters of Mugabe has killed dozens of opposition activists and other Zimbabweans.

The non-binding presidential statement was the Security Council's first formal action on Zimbabwe's political and humanitarian crises. Council members also agreed that the violence and restrictions on opposition activists imposed by the Mugabe government "have made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place" on Friday.

The 84-year-old Mugabe and United Nations Zimbabwean Ambassador Boniface Chidyausiku pledged to press ahead with Friday's vote, despite the international criticism and the lack of opposition.

Tsvangirai said the election was rigged and his supporters face too much violence for him to keep running. He won the first round of voting on March 29, but lacked an outright majority against Mugabe.

"There has been too much violence, too much intimidation," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon told a brief news conference, and a runoff "would only deepen divisions within the country and produce a result that cannot be credible."

Ban said he was working with South Africa and the African Union to find a solution. Dumisani Kumalo, South Africa's ambassador to the U.N., told reporters that it should be left up to the Zimbabweans to decide whether to delay Friday's voting or to revert to the earlier result and consider Tsvangirai the interim president.

Most of the council's negotiations were conducted privately.

Meanwhile, African pressure mounted on Tuesday for Mugabe to call off the election.

Both Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and South African ruling ANC leader Jacob Zuma said the presidential run-off must be postponed.

'Outright terror'
Zuma, who rivals President Thabo Mbeki as South Africa's most powerful man, called for urgent intervention by the U.N. and regional body SADC (Southern African Development Community), saying the situation in Zimbabwe was out of control.

Zuma's ANC party issued a statement saying there was compelling evidence of violence, intimidation and "outright terror." It said free and fair elections were impossible and called on Mugabe's government "to take up the challenge of finding a negotiated settlement to the current impasse."

Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans have been uprooted from their homes and 85 people have died in election violence, human rights groups say. Tsvangirai has repeatedly been detained by police and contended with warnings of a state-sponsored assassination plot.