June 24, 2008

Opposition Leader Pulling Out

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP)- Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of Zimbabwe's violence-wracked presidential runoff Sunday, declaring that the election was no longer credible and the loss of life among his supporters was simply too high.

The announcement cleared the way for President Robert Mugabe to continue his 28-year rule, despite mounting condemnation from even loyal African allies that the former independence hero has become a despot who has bankrupted the country's once thriving economy.

"We can't ask the people to cast their vote on June 27 when that vote will cost their lives. We will no longer participate in this violent sham of an election," Tsvangirai said.

He addressed a news conference in Zimbabwe's capital after thousands of militants loyal to Mugabe prevented opposition supporters from gathering for its main campaign rally.

As night fell, militia groups roamed the capital and hotels sent their workers home early out of fear for the safety. Normally busy Sunday traders packed up early.

Tsvangirai called on the United Nations, the European Union and the Southern African regional bloc to intervene.

He said he would put forward new proposals by Wednesday on how take the country forward. The opposition has repeatedly said it would welcome a government of "national healing" including ruling ZANU-PF party members but not Mugabe himself.

Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said Friday's runoff would go ahead in accordance with the constitution - and to prove Zimbabweans' support for Mugabe, who has held power since independence from Britain in 1980.

"The constitution does not say that if somebody drops out or decides to chicken out the runoff will not be held," Ndlovu said.

"It is an election of the people of Zimbabwe against Britain and America," he said, returning to the government's theme of portraying Tsvangirai as a puppet of Western powers out to re-colonize Zimbabwe.

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