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US Secretary of State Urges African Leaders to Push for Free Elections in Zimbabwe

  • VOA News

Western and African countries are increasing pressure on Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe to hold a free and fair run-off presidential election next week.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Washington on Wednesday she plans to discuss Zimbabwe's political crisis at the U.N. Security Council Thursday. She urged African leaders to take a stronger stand on Zimbabwe and tell Mr. Mugabe to stop intimidating voters.

She spoke at a news conference with Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Mr. Odinga called Zimbabwe's March elections a "sham" and said the country is an embarrassment to Africa. He said an international peacekeeping force should be sent to Zimbabwe to ensure proper elections are held.

Their comments came as South African President Thabo Mbeki held talks with Mr. Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Mbeki has not publicly criticized Mr. Mugabe, and critics say he should do more to resolve Zimbabwe's crisis. Jacob Zuma, the leader of South Africa's ruling African National Congress party, has taken a much stronger stand on the issue.

British Prime Minster Gordon Brown said in London today that Zuma told him he supports the deployment of a thousand ANC monitors to observe the June 27th run-off election.

Zimbabwe is holding a second round of voting because election officials say opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won more votes than Mr. Mugabe in the March elections, but did not win enough for a majority. Mr. Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change accuses Mr. Mugabe's supporters of waging a campaign of violence and intimidation. The ruling party blames the opposition for the violence.

International rights groups also have expressed concern about the government's crackdown on opposition activists and foreign aid groups.

The United Nations human rights chief Louise Arbour announced today that Mr. Mugabe's government expelled one of her staff on Tuesday.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed "profound alarm" today at the situation in Zimbabwe. He said the violence, intimidation and arrest of opposition leaders could not lead to credible elections.

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