BRUSSELS Zimbabwe's elections have become a travesty of democracy and the withdrawal of leading opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai is understandable, the European Union's foreign policy chief said on Sunday.
"Javier Solana ... considers that the withdrawal of Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai ... is understandable, given the unacceptable systematic campaign of violence, obstruction and intimidation lead by the Zimbabwean authorities, which has continued for several weeks," Solana's office said in a statement.
"In these conditions, the elections have become a travesty of democracy. They are certainly not worthy of the African continent of today."
At a summit on Friday, European Union leaders threatened more sanctions against Zimbabwe after violence scarred the run-up to the country's June 27 presidential run-off.
Existing EU sanctions include an arms embargo, visa bans and freezing of assets on more than 100 officials including President Robert Mugabe.
They were initially triggered by Zimbabwe's land redistribution plan, under which white-owned farms were seized, and Mugabe's disputed 2002 re-election.
The rotating presidency of the EU, held by Slovenia, deplored the circumstances that led to Tsvangirai's withdrawal and it expressed concerns for stability in the region.
"For the resolution of the current crisis as well as for the future of Zimbabwe, it is of crucial importance that Zimbabweans have the possibility to exercise their fundamental democratic right to vote and freely express their political will," it said.
The head of development at the EU's executive Commission said the elections in Zimbabwe could no longer be considered legitimate.
"We now expect that the African leaders who will meet at the African Union summit later this week in Egypt will condemn in the strongest terms the current situation in Zimbabwe and will do their utmost to resolve this crisis for the sake of Zimbabwean people and of democracy in Africa," EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel said in a statement.
(Reporting by William Schomberg; editing by Andrew Dobbie)