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Zimbabwean Clerics Suggest Protest Vote In Controversial March Balloting

Zimbabwe's Christian Alliance of religious leaders has expressed concern about the timetable for national elections set for March and resolved to draft a pastoral letter to the country suggesting among other points the voters cast protest ballots.

The group, which emerged in Zimbabwe's second city of Bulawayo in 2005 to provide humanitarian relief to the many thousands of people dislocated by the government's forced eviction and demolition program that year, said conditions in the country are "adverse" for elections to be held on that relatively tight schedule.

The church group has been accused in the past by President Robert Mugabe and the ruling ZANU-PF party of plotting with the opposition to overthrow the government.

But members said this week that it is crucial for them to highlight their concerns before the elections as the government has decided to proceed with presidential, general and local ballots before reaching agreement with the opposition on key issues. Crisis talks mediated by South Africa are generally considered to have hit a dead end.

Christian Alliance spokesman Reverend Ray Motsi told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the organization wants to tell Zimbabweans they can cast a protest vote to tell political parties that they "should have done better."

Another group of clerics which published a document titled “The Zimbabwe We Want” in 2006 and met then with President Mugabe, gathered Wednesday at a Harare hotel to relaunch their efforts to engage the president an his government in the wake of failed crisis resolution talks between the ruling party and opposition.

The church leaders, considered by many to be overly accommodating to Mr. Mugabe and the government, say they have canvassed most of the country’s 10 provinces to solicit the views of political parties, business groups and ordinary citizens.

Bishop Trevor Manhanga of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, a leader of the group, said it seeks a solution to the country’s eight-year political stalemate.

Political analyst Pedzisayi Ruhanya of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he believes the church leaders will again fail because the ruling party is not ready to lend them an ear.

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