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With Run-Off Looming, Zimbabwe's Mugabe Hardens Stance Against Opposition

A United Nations envoy dispatched to Zimbabwe to examine the political situation and offer assistance in ensuring the country's upcoming June 27 presidential run-off election is free and fair met Tuesday with President Robert Mugabe, who has hardened his stance amid international criticism.

A U.N. spokeswoman told reporters in New York that Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios met with Mr. Mugabe and the two men "discussed the political climate" ahead of the run-off.

She said Menkerios also met with Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi and was expected to meet with leaders of political parties and other stakeholders.

Though under intense international pressure to halt the wave of political violence sweeping Zimbabwe in the approach to the second round ballot, Mr. Mugabe this week threatened to arrest the leaders of the opposition Movement for Democratic change who he accused of condoning arson and violence.

Addressing supporters Monday in Kadoma, Mashonaland West province, Mr. Mugabe said the violence is systematic and well-organized, repeating he won't step down if he loses the run-off election.

Mr. Mugabe trailed Tsvangirai in the first-round presidential ballot on March 29 with an official 43.2% of the ballot compared with the opposition leader's 47.9%. His ruling ZANU-PF party by the compilations of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission lost its majority in the lower house of parliament to the MDC.

The MDC says more than 70 activists have died in political violence which most observers say has been organized by ZANU-PF and carried out by youth militia and war veterans loyal to Mr. Mugabe. But Mr. Mugabe and other ZANU-PF officials have blamed the opposition for the violence.

Some MDC supporters have fought back, and a handful of ZANU-PF militants have died.

In Washington Tuesday, Kenyan Prime minister Raila Odinga stepped up his criticism of fellow African leaders for failing to denounce the violence in Zimbabwe, saying disaster is looming there.

The level of violence has increased sharply in recent weeks, moving from beatings and torture to mutilation and indiscriminate murders. Some victims reportedly have been burned alive.

As many mid-level party officials and activists have gone underground the perpetrators of violence have started directing attacks at their spouses.

Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of Tsvangirai's MDC formation told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Mr. Mugabe, who once boasted he has a degree in violence, wants to justify a crackdown on the opposition before the run-off ballot late this month.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...