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Mugabe calls elections for March 29


By Adrian Croft

THE British government called on Tuesday for effective international monitoring of next month's Zimbabwean elections, saying conditions for the poll were "far from free and fair".

President Robert Mugabe has announced presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections for March 29 and is seeking another five-year term to extend his 28-year rule of the once-prosperous southern African country.

"Zimbabwe is suffering from an economic, humanitarian and political crisis for which President Mugabe is directly responsible," Foreign Secretary David Miliband said.

"The conditions for it (the election) are far from free and fair. We are pressing for effective international monitoring and for states in the region to require the election to meet international standards...," he told parliament.

The opposition is concerned the elections will not be free. Mugabe has been widely accused of rigging the last three major elections and of using security forces to quell dissent.

Mugabe faces a challenge from Simba Makoni, a former ally who is running for president as an independent and who has vowed to make the crumbling economy the campaign's focus.

Critics say government mismanagement has plunged the country into a crisis marked by soaring poverty, widespread malnutrition and chronic food and fuel shortages.

Mugabe says the problems are the result of sabotage by Western powers opposed to his policy of seizing white-owned farms and redistributing the land to blacks. Relations between Zimbabwe and former colonial power Britain have been fraught. - Reuters
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