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South Africa's Mbeki Takes Heat For Comments On Zimbabwe Election

South African President Thabo Mbeki has come under fire for saying he is confident Zimbabwean elections March 29 will be conducted in a free and fair manner, in sharp contrast to many observers who say the electoral playing field is far from level.

Addressing reporters last night at the end of a visit to Mauritius, Mr. Mbeki said he saw no obstacles to free and fair elections though the ruling ZANU-PF party has been receiving the lions share of coverage by state media and the opposition says its candidates and supporters are targeted for violence and intimidation.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and other Zimbabwean civic organizations were Brussels this week urging the European Union to raise Harare’s alleged political crackdown during the election period in the United Nations Security Council.

Human Rights NGO Forum Deputy Coordinator Dewa Mavhinga told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe in an interview from Brussels that Mr. Mbeki’s statements about the election were misleading and unfortunate.

Mr. Mbeki’s statement also drew criticism from his brother, publisher Moeltsi Mbeki, who told Chris Gande that it is not Mr. Mbeki’s place to say if Zimbabwe’s election will be free and fair, that assessment being best left to the political parties concerned.

Many in the Zimbabwean opposition have still not forgiven Mr. Mbeki for comments he made following the 2005 general election, which the opposition charged was marred by violence, intimidation and outright rigging, saying it had been free and fair.

More recently, President Mbeki irked the opposition by saying he believed the crisis talks he mediated from March 200y until January had been a success, whereas both groupings of the Movement for Democratic Change said the talks failed.

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