Zimbabwe bans Western observers

Zimbabwe has banned observers from Western countries from monitoring elections later this month.

Zimbabwe has banned observers from Western countries from monitoring elections later this month.

Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said African countries would be allowed to send monitors, as would allies such as China, Iran and Venezuela.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, 84, says that Western countries are trying to remove him from government.

Two credible challengers are running against Mugabe in the 29 March poll - Simba Makoni and Morgan Tsvangirai.

"Clearly, those who believe that the only free and fair election is where the opposition wins have been excluded since the ruling party, Zanu-PF, is poised to score yet another triumph," Mumbengegwi told the state-owned Herald newspaper.

But Tsvangirai’s faction of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said the move showed the government had "a lot to hide".

"If everything was being done in a fair and transparent manner, there would be no need to exclude other countries," the MDC’s Innocent Gonese told the AFP news agency.

"Those who have been invited will hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil and endorse a flawed election."


Regional body, the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), will be one of the main observer groups for the polls.

Last month, both factions of the MDC said they felt betrayed by Sadc for failing to facilitate talks between the opposition and Zanu-PF to pave the way for free and fair elections.

They said Zanu-PF had reneged on an agreement to enact a new constitution before the polls.

But Mumbengegwi said the electoral commission would not be partisan and the talks with the opposition had resulted in the relaxing of tough security and media laws, the Herald reports.

He also urged diplomats to be wary of allegations of electoral fraud.

"All those who do not expect to win the election would want to discredit the process. Therefore, you will come across all sorts of allegations in volumes and volumes," he said.

"My appeal to you is please try your best to ensure that any allegation that is made is verified."

The country is suffering an economic crisis, with annual inflation of 100,000% and unemployment at 80%. There are also severe food and fuel shortages.

Mugabe, who came to power in 1980 when Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain, blames the state of the country on Western sanctions imposed following allegations that he rigged the 2002 polls.

The sanctions are targeted at Mugabe and his close associates - they are subject to a travel ban and an assets freeze in the European Union and the US.

This week, Mugabe accused Britain of backing his former finance minister, Makoni, who is standing as an independent.

He urged supporters at a campaign rally to "bury British regime-change schemes", the Herald reported.


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