Zimbabwe vote should be called off says Makoni

CAPE TOWN Thu Jun 5, 2008 10:04pm BST

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CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's presidential election run-off should be scrapped to prevent further bloodshed, the ruling party defector who came third in the first round said on Thursday.

Former finance minister Simba Makoni won over 8 percent and his votes could in theory be crucial in swinging the June 27 contest between opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and veteran President Robert Mugabe.

Makoni, who favors a national unity government, told reporters that Zimbabwe could not afford another election and it would not end the political crisis and economic collapse.

"We are convinced that the last thing our country and its people need is another election. Besides, the violence now gripping the country bodes ill for a free and fair election," Makoni said on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum meeting in Cape Town.

Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the March 29 presidential election but failed to win the absolute majority needed to avoid a second ballot.

Makoni's campaign had said before the first round that he would back Tsvangirai if voting went to a run-off, but since then he was not formally endorsed the opposition leader.

Mugabe's vow never to allow Tsvangirai's MDC to take power has stoked opposition fears that the ruling ZANU-PF will use intimidation and vote-rigging to extend the president's 28-year rule.

Tsvangirai was detained for nine hours on Wednesday as he campaigned southwest of Harare.

BLOODSHED

The opposition says 65 people have been killed by Mugabe's supporters since the election. On Wednesday it said soldiers and ZANU-PF activists had beaten and threatened to shoot Zimbabweans who wanted to support Tsvangirai.

Mugabe says the opposition is responsible for violence.

The MDC said Tsvangirai, who has been arrested and even beaten by police in the past, had continued his campaign on Thursday.

He described his detention as "yet another indication of the lengths that the Mugabe regime is prepared to go to in order to try and steal the election".

Makoni said harassment of opposition leaders and assaults on lawyers and people dealing with the victims of political violence was aimed at creating a hostile environment for a free and fair run-off.

"And if the leaders will that the elections be put off so that we can save lives ... then it is not beyond us if we will it that the elections be called off," he said.

State media reported on Thursday that the ruling ZANU-PF party and Tsvangirai's MDC have set up a joint team to stop political violence.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper said the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) had facilitated the establishment of a committee comprising ZANU-PF and MDC officials to stem violence.

But MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the team was unlikely to stop the violence.

"This all appears bold on paper, but not in practice," Chamisa told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Nelson Banya in Harare; Writing by Marius Bosch; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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