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African Leaders Start To Speak Out On Zimbabwe Pre-Election Violence

African leaders are voicing strong doubts about the fairness of the presidential run-off election coming up in Zimbabwe next week in a climate of increasingly deadly political violence.

Speaking for the Southern African Development Community, Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe said Thursday that "there is every sign" the second-round ballot will be neither free nor fair.

In South Africa, African National Congress President Jacob Zuma told a public forum on Wednesday that he does not think the election will be fair.

Citing "the manner in which violence has increased, how there is interference and detention of the opposition leaders" and statements by President Robert Mugabe and other ruling ZANU-PF officials that they will not accept defeat, "there won't be a free and fair election."

Membe said Tanzania has asked Harare to stop politically-related violence which the opposition and other observers say has killed scores of people and injured hundreds more. Membe was speaking to reporters on behalf of SADC's peace and security committee.

Until recently, most African leaders have avoided publicly criticizing Mr. Mugabe or the Harare government. But rising international protests against the violence that human rights groups say has been engineered by the Mugabe government seems to have had an effect even on African leaders who for the most have tended to close ranks on human rights issues.

One of the most outspoken so far is Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who leveled tough criticism at president Robert Mugabe for saying he won't step down if he is defeated.

SADC deployed 221 monitors in various parts of the country and 80 more arrived Thursday.

Observer mission director Tanki Mothae of SADC's organ on politics and defense told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that conditions are deteriorating.

The head of the Pan-African Parliament's election observer mission, Marwick Khumalo, said that with the violence and electoral irregularities, a credible election cannot be held.

Meanwhile, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday called for "broader and stronger" international action. Rice was speaking at a U.N. headquarters meeting called in part to identify measures to deal with the crisis ahead of the election.

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