Fears over Zimbabwe polls as election date is set

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Zimbabwe's long-awaited parliamentary elections will be held on 24-25 June, the government announced yesterday, after months of political violence aimed at keeping President Robert Mugabe's 20-year iron grip on power.

In Harare, a senior European Union official expressed doubt as to whether the elections could be fair, with ruling party thugs roaming the countryside, intimidating and beating some opposition supporters and forcing others to attend ruling party rallies. "It's something which is causing concern," said Roger Moore, head of the European Commission's southern Africa division. "Everybody who's come and looked at it has come away with the conclusion that it won't be free and fair."

The elections pit Mr Mugabe's ruling party against the Movement for Democratic Change. Violence by Zanu-PF ruling party militants has led to the deaths of at least 19 people, mostly black opposition figures, since February. Four white farmers were murdered after land invasions by veterans of Zimbabwe's war of independence. The 150-seat parliament was dissolved on 11 April, ending a five-year term. Under the constitution, elections must be held within four months of parliament's adjournment.

EU and Commonwealth representatives arrived yesterday for talks with the government and the opposition. "I hope that our discussions will help towards creating an environment conducive to a free and fair electoral process," said the Commonwealth Secretary General, Don McKinnon.