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Zimbabwe PM Tsvangirai Warns Escalating Violence Puts Elections at Risk

Mr. Tsvangirai told reporters that if political violence of the kind seen in the past few weeks should continue it will not be possible to hold free and fair elections as generally expected some time in 2012

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said Monday that rising political violence in the country is damaging the country's hopes of holding free and fair elections.

Mr. Tsvangirai issued the warning in a news conference after meeting with President Robert Mugabe following a serious outbreak of violence in Chitungwiza on Sunday which injured scores of people and prevented him from addressing a rally there.

Officials of Mr. Tsvangirai's formation of the Movement for Democratic Change said police were advised of the rally in the Harare satellite town but did not intervene when ZANU-PF militants and members of the Chipangano gang, considered to be aligned with ZANU-PF, attacked party supporters with iron bars, machetes and stones.

Mr. Tsvangirai told reporters that if this kind of political violence continues it will not be possible to hold free and fair elections as generally expected in 2012.

"If the current situation prevails - and I say, 'if' - then the election will be a sham," Mr. Tsvangirai told reporters. "We have to create conditions for free and fair elections, not for elections just for Zimbabwe but for elections that are universally accepted. So I am hoping that by the time we call the election, the conditions will be ideal for us to run a free and credible and legitimate election."

The MDC leader said he had called a meeting on Friday of all parties in the national unity government to discuss the escalating political violence.

ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo said the clashes were not political but had to do with a stadium booked at the same time by party youths for a soccer match.

Gumbo told VOA reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC formation instigated the violence to get the attention of South African facilitators led by President Jacob Zuma, mediator in Zimbabwe for the Southern African Development Community.

South African facilitation team spokeswoman Lindiwe Zulu told VOA reporter Violet Gonda that the violence was "unfortunate" and "unacceptable."

Africa Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project Director Ozias Tungwarara said it is time SADC took a tougher stance with perpetrators of political violence in Zimbabwe.

“For it to be a bystander as violence erupts and escalates is a derogation of responsibility," Ozias said. "We need stern leadership in SADC and begin to call a spade a spade in terms of who is causing this violence and taking effective measures." He said the regional organization should start deploying monitors to Zimbabwe.