Fair vote impossible in Zimbabwe, Rice says

WASHINGTON Mon Jun 23, 2008 4:28pm BST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It will be impossible for Zimbabwe to hold a free and fair run-off election on Friday amid violent assaults on the opposition and such a poll will not legitimize the government of President Robert Mugabe, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Monday.

"Yet another vicious assault on the opposition and its supporters for exercising their right to assemble and their right to free speech has reinforced that it is impossible for there to be a free, fair or peaceful election in Zimbabwe on June 27," Rice said in a statement.

"The Mugabe regime cannot be considered legitimate in the absence of a run-off," said the statement, which added that Mugabe's government must be held accountable for the attacks that prompted Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Saturday to pull out of the presidential election.

Zimbabwe's government says the run-off will proceed anyway, with Mugabe virtually guaranteed to win the contest. The 84-year-old Zimbabwean leader would then be sworn in for another five-year term.

Rice urged the Southern African Development Community, the African Union Peace and Security Council, and the U.N. Security Council to take up the issue of Zimbabwe immediately.

"What we would like to see is a halt to the violence and a political resolution to this crisis," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey, who said the United States was looking to the Security Council and Zimbabwe's neighbors but had not exhausted its means to assert unilateral pressure on Mugabe.

At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Zimbabwe faced not just a political but a humanitarian crisis. "The government, criminally in my view, is impeding assistance to those who are in need. So we have a serious situation to deal with," he told reporters.

He said the Security Council had to see "what we can do to be helpful to the situation there."

Khalilzad and other diplomats said the U.N. council was considering a British-drafted official council policy statement ahead of a meeting on Zimbabwe later on Monday.

South Africa, a council member, has long sought to fend off action on Zimbabwe by the 15-nation body, but South African officials said Pretoria could accept a statement. "Nobody disagrees with the concept (of a statement), it's what goes into it," one said.

U.S. officials had no input in Tsvangirai decision to pull out from Friday's vote, Casey said.

"We certainly understand and support his decision to withdraw from the run-off in the face of what has been an absolutely reprehensible campaign of violence," he told reporters.

(Reporting by Paul Eckert and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations, editing by Jackie Frank)

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