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Zimbabweans Urged To Boycott Run-Off Election Or Spoil Ballots

Zimbabwe was braced for a presidential run-off election Friday that many Zimbabweans and much of the outside world said would lack legitimacy given the withdrawal from the contest by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai due to widespread and deadly political violence and government manipulation of the electoral process.

But the ruling ZANU-PF party and the government of President Robert Mugabe were pushing ahead with the ballot in which Mr. Mugabe will be in effect the only candidate - although the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has said Tsvangirai's formal notification of his withdrawal, filed on Wednesday, came to late to have legal effect.

Many Zimbabweans, especially in rural areas, faced the possibility they would be forced to cast ballots. Militia forces affiliated with ZANU-PF were launching what was being called "Operation Show Us the Ink," referring to the indelible ink in which voters dip their fingers after casting their ballot, threatening to beat those without inked fingers to prove they had voted.

Zimbabwean civil society organizations today issued a collective statement urged voters not to go out to the polls unless their failure to do so might lead to violence against them, in which case the electorate was urged to spoil the ballot or leave it blank.

An increasing number of African leaders were breaking silence on Zimbabwe, denouncing the political violence that has raged since the March 29 first round of elections, and urging that the run-off election be postponed. Former South African President Nelson Mandela weighed in on Wednesday with a statement deploring the "failure of leadership in Zimbabwe," an indirect criticism of President Mugabe whom Mr. Mandela had earlier declined to take to task.

Mr. Mandela, visiting London for celebrations of his 90thbirthday, made those comments at a dinner attended by Prime Minister Gordon Grown and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The Zimbabwean government on Thursday dismissed Mandela's comments. Information Minister Sikhanyso Ndlovu said Mandela had bowed to Western pressure.

President Mugabe said in a final campaign rally Thursday in Chitungwiza, not far south of Harare, that he is ready to talk to the MDC, but only after Friday's run-off.

Mr. Mugabe shrugged off a resolution by the Southern African Development Community troika on politics and defense which urged Harare to postpone the election.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged African leaders to take the lead and "use their influence" to resolve the mounting crisis.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer said any victory claimed by Mr. Mugabe would be "illegitimate" as would any government arising from the run-off.

Executive Director Tomaz Salamao of the Southern African Development Community told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that SADC's Zimbabwe troika wants the run-off vote to be postponed until the situation in the country stabilizes.

Tsvangirai welcomed the resolution by the SADC troika. Still under Dutch protection at the Embassy of the Netherlands in Harare, he said ZANU-PF militia raided his rural homestead in Buhera, Manicaland province, destroying homes and forcing villagers to join ZANU-PF.

Tsvangirai told reporter Blessing Zulu that the SADC's statement was historic.

Information Minister Ndlovu vowed that the election will go ahead as planned and dismissed the SADC troika resolution as a non-event.

Elsewhere, the Harare high court granted bail to Secretary General Tendai Biti of the MDC formation led by Tsvangirai, held since June 12 on treason and other charges, and civil society leaders urged Zimbabweans to shun the ballot, as Irwin Chifera reported from Harare.

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