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Mugabe Warns Western 'Detractors' Not To Meddle In Zimbabwe Elections

In remarks which appeared to signal limits to how far the Zimbabwe government is prepared to go to satisfy the international community as to the freedom and fairness of its elections, President Robert Mugabe has warned the West not to interfere with what he says are Zimbabwean internal affairs in elections due next year.

Delivering his annual state of the union address in parliament Tuesday, Mr. Mugabe said that only “friendly and objective” countries will be allowed to send observers to the elections which his government says will be held in March, following a round of local council elections scheduled to be held in January.

Mr. Mugabe said Zimbabwe will hold elections guided by the “constitution and laws as we have always done." Charges of political violence, intimidation and ballot rigging tarnished general elections in 2000 and 2005, and the presidential election in 2002 in which Mr. Mugabe was re-elected. He says he will seek re-election in 2008.

The statement raised further questions as to whether the president is committed to putting into practice the accords eventually agreed on by negotiators from his ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change who have been engaged in crisis resolution talks under South African mediation since March.

The most important focus of the talks as far as the opposition is concerned is electoral reform, including guarantees that the next elections will be free and fair, a guarantee which many observers say can't be honored without international monitoring.

Researcher Patrick Rankumise of the Africa Institute in Pretoria, South Africa, a specialist on the Southern African Development Community, told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that SADC must enforce its principles and guidelines and compel Zimbabwe to comply with international standards.

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