British envoy warns Zimbabwe not to rush new vote

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Britain's ambassador to Zimbabwe warned the country's power-sharing government Tuesday not to rush new elections, saying a premature vote risked turning into a repeat of a violent poll two years ago.

"Clearly, a number of things need to happen before Zimbabwe is ready," Ambassador Mark Canning told journalists at the embassy in Harare.

"If a poll was to be held prematurely it would be most unlikely to be free and fair," he said.

"It's important to note that an election that is held too soon is likely to be much like the last one in 2008."

Zimbabwe's general elections in 2008 were upset by violence in which 200 supporters of then-opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai were killed and thousands displaced, according to his party.

The disputed polls forced long-time ruler Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai into a power-sharing government to ease tensions and rebuild an economy wracked by years of hyperinflation.

The work of the compromise government has been hampered by haggling over the allocation of key government posts, while violence and intimidation have also undermined public meetings to draw up a new constitution meant to pave the way for fresh elections.

"The constitutional process needs to be completed in an orderly and well-paced way," Canning said.

"The Zimbabwe electoral commission needs to be capacitated, technical changes need to be made to the voters' roll as well as the putting in place of thorough and comprehensive monitoring arrangements. All this is going to take time if it is going to be held as it should."

Mugabe signalled in October that elections could be held next year.

But the head of the new electoral commission said in August the body did not have enough money to clean up the voters' roll, which has been cited as a tool used in previous elections to hand victory to Mugabe's party.

© 2010 AFP

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