EU to raise alarm on Zimbabwe elections
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union will raise concerns on Monday that elections this month in Zimbabwe will not be free and fair, a draft statement seen by Reuters showed.
"The (EU) Council remains very concerned about the humanitarian, political and economic situation in Zimbabwe and conditions on the ground," the statement agreed by EU envoys before a meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers on Monday said.
"(It) may endanger the holding of free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections," the statement said, urging veteran President Robert Mugabe to ensure the elections respect international standards.
The March 29 election presents Mugabe with one of the biggest challenges to his rule since taking office in 1980.
Millions of Zimbabweans hoping for an end to a decade long economic crisis are due to vote in presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections described by Mugabe and his opponents as a landmark poll in the post-independence period.
EU relations with Zimbabwe have been tense for years, and have been a thorn in EU-Africa relations.
The 27-nation bloc slapped visa bans and asset freezes on Mugabe and over a hundred top officials after a controversial distribution of white-owned commercial farms to mainly landless blacks and Mugabe's disputed re-election in 2002.
The bloc nevertheless temporarily lifted the ban on the 84-year-old leader in December to hold a long-delayed EU-Africa summit, as many African leaders refused to attend if he was barred. Prime Minister Gordon Brown boycotted the meeting to protest against his participation.
On Monday, EU foreign ministers are due to say that the bloc is willing to hold dialogue with the government of Zimbabwe and to resume full cooperation as soon as conditions allow.
Mugabe faces a challenge in the presidential election from his former finance minister Simba Makoni, who is standing as an independent after being expelled from the ruling ZANU-PF party.
(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/)
(Reporting by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Charles Dick)
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