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Zimbabwe Government Gives Itself Until July 31 To Hold Presidential Runoff

The Zimbabwean government said Wednesday that it has extended the deadline for holding a presidential runoff election to 90 days from the May 2 release of first-round results, or until July 31, leaving open the option of a date earlier than that.

A special edition of the government Gazette says the statutory 21-day period for the presidential runoff to be held after the release of first-round results was extended from the statutory 21 days. The Gazette quoted Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, a key political advisor to President Robert Mugabe, as the authority, rather than the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which had been expected to set a date.

In an interview earlier Wednesday with VOA, commission Chairman George Chiweshe refused to be drawn as to any specific date for the election.

Chiweshe's commission was widely criticized for taking more than a month to release the results of the presidential first round, the integrity of which was challenged due to the long delay which many observers considered suspicious.

The commission said opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai took 47.9% of the ballot, short of an outright majority, trailed by Mr. Mugabe with 43.2%.

Chiweshe told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that despite widespread violence in the country's rural areas, a credible election can still be held because the incidents of violence have been exaggerated.

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