Leading article: Fear and fortitude

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Less than four weeks remains before the run-off vote for the presidency of Zimbabwe. In view of the protracted confusion that has been the country's election, this may not seem very long. Four weeks, though, is plenty of time for the agents of Robert Mugabe's regime to extend their campaign of lethal intimidation.

As we report today, a new wave of disappearances, beatings and killings is well underway, targeting Morgan Tsvangirai's opposition Movement for Democratic Change and its supporters. Ndira Tonderai, a tireless opposition activist, aged only 30, is only the best-known of 50 individuals who have been killed; up to 25,000 have been driven from their homes.

The fresh outbreak of violence is especially marked in the rural north and north-east, where the showing for Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party was particularly poor in March. None of this augurs well for a free or fair election. Mr Tsvangirai himself has only just returned to Zimbabwe to campaign. He says he believes his life is no longer in danger. Instilling fear among the voters seems to be the preferred tactic of Mr Mugabe's coterie. Some fear Mr Tsvangirai may have surrendered his advantage by his long absence. But it was always going to take outstanding courage and resolve to dislodge Mr Mugabe.

Simply by agreeing to contest the run-off in an election he believes he won fair and square, Mr Tsvangirai occupies the moral high ground. But if change is to be accomplished through the ballot-box, it will require fortitude on the part of voters who supported the MDC last time around and extreme vigilance on the part of all the election observers and Zimbabwe's well-wishers abroad. The opposition has a desperately hard task ahead, but this time it is not – quite – mission impossible.

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