Zimbabweans Vote in Presidential RunoffBy VOA News
27 June 2008

Robert Mugabe (file photo)Zimbabweans are going to the polls Friday in a presidential run-off election offering just one candidate -- incumbent Robert Mugabe, who has defied international calls to postpone the vote.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the race earlier this week, saying violence against his supporters made the election impossible.

Witnesses say there has been a slow start to voting. Polls will be open for 12 hours.

On Thursday, Nigeria became the latest African country to call for Zimbabwe to defer the run-off, saying it is doubtful a credible vote can be held under current circumstances.

The 14-nation Southern African Development Community and many western nations have also been urging Zimbabwe to abandon put off today's poll.

Witnesses say ruling party militias are threatening to beat people who do not vote. Journalists and witnesses told VOA that pro-Mugabe militias have said they will check people's hands for ink to show that they cast their ballot.

During his final campaign rally Thursday, President Mugabe said he is "open to discussion" with the opposition, but only after he wins another term in office. Earlier, Mr. Tsvangirai repeated an offer to negotiate an end to Zimbabwe's political crisis, but he said no talks can take place if the run-off goes ahead and President Mugabe declares victory.

Mr. Tsvangirai says 86 of his supporters have been killed in the run-up to the vote. However, Zimbabwe's electoral commission says his pullout from the election came too late to be legal, and that the vote is going ahead as planned.

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer, called on the United Nations, African Union and the Southern African Development Community to join mediation efforts to solve the crisis in Zimbabwe. She told VOA it is crucial those groups play a strong role.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has been mediating between Zimbabwe's government and the opposition. Mr. Mbeki has not publicly criticized Mr. Mugabe -- and critics say he should do more to resolve Zimbabwe's crisis.

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