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Zimbabwe Opposition Voices Dissatisfaction With Regional Observers

An election observer mission sent to Zimbabwe by the Southern African Development Community drew criticism from the opposition on Tuesday by condoning a decision by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to refuse to provide an electronic copy of the national voters role on the grounds that it might be tampered with.

Denford Magora, a spokesman for independent presidential candidate Simba Makoni, said Makoni's campaign was given an outdated voters roll, which he charged was an attempt to handicap the campaign of the former senior ruling party official.

Elections Director Dennis Murira of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai expressed disbelief at the suggestion that the opposition party might tamper with the voters roll. He said the government knows it contains many irregularities and an electronic copy would reveal these in full.

The political atmosphere in Zimbabwe was tense following statements by President Robert Mugabe and senior police and army officials to the effect that they would not allow the opposition to assume the reins of government. Police issued a statement saying they would crush any premature opposition election celebrations.

Britain issued a statement saying the elections will test the strength of political engagements by the Southern African Development Community.

SADC Secretariat Media Officer Charles Mubita told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the observer mission is satisfied with the environment.

But legal secretary David Coltart of the MDC formation led by Arthur Mutambara said the electoral commissions claims and SADC's defense of them were absurd.

Elsewhere, police in Harare briefly detained an opposition candidate for parliament, his election agent and a helicopter pilot delivering campaign material at Charles Prince Airport outside the capital. Police said they were searching the craft for weapons.

Jameson Timba, who is seeking the parliamentary seat for Mount Pleasant, Harare Province, for the MDC formation of Morgan Tsvangirai, said he and his election agent were released but that the fate of the pilot was uncertain.

An executive of the South African company that leased the helicopter to the Tsvangirai campaign said he did not know why the pilot was detained.

Wessel Van den Bergh, owner of Aviation Towards Success of Midrand, South Africa, told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that British pilot Brett Smythe was preparing to fly Tsvangirai to rallies when police arrested him and impounded the helicopter.

Sources said Smythe was being held at Harare Central Police Station late Tuesday, but police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena refused to comment.

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