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Zimbabwe presidential run-off set for 27 June

Zimbabwe said today it would hold a delayed presidential election run-off on 27 June in which the opposition hopes to oust veteran leader Robert Mugabe after almost 30 years in power.

"A poll shall be taken on Friday the 27th June, 2008, for the purpose of electing a person to the office of president," a notice in a government gazette said.

The long-awaited second round follows a disputed 29 March election in which official results showed opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai beat Mugabe, but not by enough votes to avoid a run-off.

Zimbabweans are hoping that the run-off will help end turmoil in the southern African nation, where an economic meltdown has triggered 165,000 per cent inflation, 80 per cent unemployment, chronic food and fuel shortages and a flood of refugees to neighbouring countries.

Regional states, including economic powerhouse South Africa, are concerned the instability and economic crisis in Zimbabwe could take their toll on them too.

The aftermath of the March poll has been marked by tension and violence. The MDC blames the government for attacks in which it says 40 of its members have been killed, scores have been wounded and more than 1,000 homes burnt or destroyed.

The ruling ZANU-PF denies responsibility, accusing the MDC of unleashing the violence to discredit Mugabe.

The MDC yesterday called for an urgent meeting of countries in the region to avoid "rivers of dead people". It rejected a delay in the run-off election announced by the government, but stopped short of saying Tsvangirai would only participate if the timeline was upheld.

ZANU-PF's policy-setting central committee is due to hold its first meeting since the March elections on Friday, which is expected to map out Mugabe's campaign strategy.

The MDC says authorities have banned a rally on Sunday at which Tsvangirai was due to kick off his campaign for the run-off. The United States condemned the ban.