June 23, 2008 / 6:10 AM / 11 years ago

U.N. council agrees fair Zimbabwe poll impossible

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council will declare on Monday that a free and fair run-off presidential election in Zimbabwe would be impossible due to violence and restrictions on the opposition, diplomats said.

President Robert Mugabe addresses to supporters during an election rally at the White City Stadium in Bulawayo June 20, 2008. REUTERS/Emmanuel Chitate

They said the statement, which will be the council’s first formal action on Zimbabwe if it is adopted, had the backing of South Africa, China and Russia, which had long opposed any council discussion of the crisis in Zimbabwe.

“The Security Council considers that the campaign of violence and the restrictions on the political opposition have made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place on June 27,” the text, obtained by Reuters, said.

Diplomats said the text had been agreed by envoys from the council’s 15 member states, though Russia and one other country were still awaiting final approval from their capitals. The council was expected to formally approve the declaration later on Monday.

The non-binding text was watered down from an earlier version, which had the council explicitly blaming President Robert Mugabe’s government for the crisis and saying opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai would be the legitimate leader if a credible run-off election cannot be held.

However, the agreed version says the council “notes that the results of the 29 March 2008 elections must be respected.” Tsvangirai won that first-round election, though the government said his narrow victory meant a run-off poll was necessary.

The council discussed the Zimbabwe crisis on several occasions but had taken no formal action since violence broke out after Mugabe lost on March 29.

This has been due to objections from South Africa, a council member, which has insisted on “quiet diplomacy” with Mugabe’s government, with the support of Russia and China.

Earlier U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Zimbabwe’s government not to press ahead with a run-off election this week, saying the results would lack legitimacy.

“I would strongly discourage the authorities from going ahead with the run-off on Friday,” he told reporters after a lunch meeting with the council.

“It will only deepen divisions within the country and produce a result that cannot be credible.”

U.N. SYMPATHY FOR TSVANGIRAI

In Ban’s strongest comments on Zimbabwe to date, he also voiced understanding for Tsvangirai’s decision to withdraw from the run-off.

“I would like to take this moment to say how distressed I am by the events leading to the understandable decision of the opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai to withdraw from the run-off election scheduled for this Friday,” Ban said.

“There has been too much violence and too much intimidation,” he said. “A vote held in these conditions would lack all legitimacy.”

Ban did not specifically blame Mugabe and his government for the situation, though he did speak of a “campaign of threat and intimidation” against the citizens of Zimbabwe.

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He said the problems in Zimbabwe had an impact beyond its borders, describing the situation as “the single greatest challenge to regional stability in southern Africa today.”

In a speech to the council, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for political affairs Lynn Pascoe made it clear he did not agree that Tsvangirai should be declared the legitimately elected leader of Zimbabwe. Rather, a run-off poll was needed.

He said the government and opposition in Zimbabwe “should immediately engage in talks to establish a period during which conditions for free and fair elections can be created.”

Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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