Mbeki steps up pressure on Mugabe

Diplomatic efforts intensified last night to bring peace to Zimbabwe ahead of presidential run-off elections due on 27 June.

South Africa's President, Thabo Mbeki, who cancelled a visit to Sudan, flew to the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, yesterday morning, and on to the second city, Bulawayo, last night. He was due to meet President Robert Mugabe who is campaigning in the area.

It is understood that President Mbeki's priority was to press for the release of Tendai Biti, the secretary general of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, who has been in custody for a week. The authorities said Mr Biti would face a range of charges, including treason – which carries the death penalty – but he has not yet been formally charged.

It is also understood that President Mbeki was to press Mr Mugabe to agree to a meeting with the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

*The MDC Mayor of Harare has gone into hiding after his wife became the most high-profile opposition figure to be murdered. Abigail Chiroto, 27, was found dead after being kidnapped on Monday. Emmanuel Chiroto was elected Mayor on Sunday.