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Europe

Zimbabwe Rejects Election Monitors

As Zimbabwe's government speeds ahead with a series of draconian measures that will ban foreign monitors in the upcoming elections, international critiscm is rising sharply.

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Seeking another 6-year term: Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwe has refused to allow international monitoring of its presidential election in March - but says observers will be permitted.

Speaking after a day of intense talks with representatives of the European Union, Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Stanislav Mudenge said he would issue invitations to the observers soon. "I will invite observers but there will be no monitors – nobody monitors Zimbabwe," he said.

The announcement came after a meeting between a Zimbawean delegation and European Union officials on Friday.

Prior to the meeting, the EU threatened the southern African country with economic sanctions and has given the country a week to accept in writing that it will accept foreign media and international monitors. But in the announcement held after the talks, sanctions were not mentioned.

European Commision official Michael Curtis said the EU would was reluctant to suspend aid that supported education and health projects.

Some 5 million euros are said to make up the current annual development aid to Zimbabwe, plus a further 128 million euros designed to support the poorest sectors of the country in the years 2002-2007.

Further critiscm of the Zimbabwean government has come from the US, who said the authorities were trying to intimidate opposition supporters in the run-up to the March elections.

International disapproval

The international community lost patience with Mr Mugabe after a series of land grabs from white farmers coupled with intimidation of the political opposition.

Despite growing international pressure over the violent takeover of white-owned farms, Mugabe says redistributing farmland to landless blacks is vital for redressing colonial injustices.

The British government said on Tuesday it would push for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth if it did not act against political violence and human rights violations. "If the situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate Britain will argue for Zimbabwe's suspension from the

Commonwealth at the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in March," Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told parliament.

Heads of government from the 54-nation Commonwealth are due to meet in Brisbane in early March.

Zimbabwe’s journalists say they will ignore the draconian media bill set to be fast-tracked through parliament next week. The media bill would only allow journalists to work in Zimbabwe with a renewable one-year accreditation from a government-appointed commission. And the controversial legislation will also bar foreign correspondents from working in the country.

Information minister Jonathan Moyo said it would stop untruths being told by foreign correspondents about the situation in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe’s popularity at home has also been sliding as the economy collapses amid a chronic shortage of fuel and hard currency and dwindling food supplies.

Mr Mugabe, 77 and in power for 21 years, is seeking another six-year term. At current he is lagging behind the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, in opinion polls. Mr Mugabe is due to announce in the coming days the date of the presidential election, expected to be in March.