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Zimbabwe Ruling Party And Opposition Square Off For Rural Elections

Zimbabweans in rural areas go to the polls Saturday to elect 870 rural district councils out of a total of 1360 local governing bodies, in elections seen as a test of strength between the government and opposition ahead of 2008 presidential ballot.

Elections won't be held in 485 districts where ruling party candidates were unopposed because the opposition failed or was unable to meet nomination requirements, while the opposition Movement for Democrat Change is unopposed in five districts.

Spokespersons for the MDC and other opposition parties have complained that local officials loyal to the ruling ZANU-PF party excluded their candidates by imposing unreasonable requirements for clearance by nomination courts.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network said meanwhile that new voters are not likely to cast ballots in the rural elections, because the Office of the Registrar General failed to provide mobile voter registration in rural areas. The election monitoring body also noted irregularities in the mayoral election to be held Saturday in northern Kadoma, where the registrar closed the voting list four months ago.

But ZESN, widely considered a credible monitoring agency, said it was encouraged that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is setting up 3,000 polling stations.

For more on election preparations, reporter Carole Gomakakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to ZESN elections monitoring officer Denfords Beremauro.

Movement for Democratic Change founding president Morgan Tsvangirai said his faction of the opposition - divided since October of 2005 - is eager to contest the Kadoma mayoral election and district council elections across the country.

Tsvangirai said winning council elections is a starting point for the opposition in its bid to unseat the ZANU-PF government of President Robert Mugabe.He and others in the faction's executive have spent the past two weeks campaigning in the rural areas.

Tsvangirai charged that there has been a high level of intimidation by the ruling party in rural areas. The homes of opposition candidates in the districts of Gokwe, Mudzi, Buhera, Mutoko and Matepatepa were destroyed by suspected ZANU-PF militants.

The Tsvangirai faction has also said it was not allowed to campaign in Kadoma.

Reporter Jonga Kandemiiri spoke with Tsvangirai and with Paul Themba Nyathi, the elections director for the rival MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara.

Reporter Blessing Zulu sought the ruling party view from Saviour Kasukuwere, deputy youth minister and ZANU-PF deputy secretary for youth affairs, a senior member of the ZANU-PF campaign team canvassing support ahead of the election.

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