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As Zimbabwe presidential run-off nears, Mugabe warns he will not cede power

HARARE, Zimbabwe - President Robert Mugabe, campaigning for re-election in a presidential run-off June 27, warned he would not cede power to western-backed opponents, the state media reported Monday.


HARARE, Zimbabwe - President Robert Mugabe, campaigning for re-election in a presidential run-off June 27, warned he would not cede power to western-backed opponents, the state media reported Monday.

"We shed a lot of blood for this country. We are not going to give up our country for a mere X on a ballot. How can a ball point pen fight with a gun?" the Herald, a government mouthpiece, quoted Mugabe as saying.

Speaking in the local Shona language in the central Silobela district Sunday, Mugabe said the country threw off colonial domination in a guerrilla war in 1980, and his party was ready to fight again to stop the pro-western Movement for Democratic Change from gaining control of the government, the paper reported.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, speaking in London with U.S. President George W. Bush, warned Monday that international election observers must be allowed to monitor the run-off or risk having Mugabe's "criminal regime" steal the election.

"(Mugabe's) criminal cabal ... threatens to make a mockery of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe," Brown said.

Bush said the U.S. would work with Britain and others to make sure the run-off poll is conducted to international standards.

"The people of Zimbabwe have suffered under the Mugabe leadership and we will work with you to ensure this process leads to free and fair elections, which obviously Mr. Mugabe does not want to happen," Bush said.

Also Monday, the secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change - the party's No. 2 - continued to be held in the notoriously harsh police jail in western Harare, his lawyer said.

Tendai Biti did not make a scheduled appearance in court Monday on treason allegations. Biti had yet to be asked by police to make a formal written "warned and cautioned" statement, needed before he can be arraigned, said lawyer Lewis Uriri.

Uriri said police have added two extra charges under the security laws - insulting the president and making statements intended to bring about disaffection in the police and security forces, both carrying the penalty of imprisonment or fine. Biti has to make further written statements on the additional charges and should be brought to court after that Tuesday.

Uriri said if Biti was not brought to court, the case would be taken to the High Court again to request it to order an end to delays that are keeping Biti in the Matapi police jail in the western township of Mbare.

The police station is known for filthy, harsh conditions used to intimidate suspects in custody. Uriri said Biti was denied a blanket in freezing nighttime temperatures in the Zimbabwe winter.

Family members were eventually allowed to provide a blanket, fresh clothing and food during the weekend, the lawyer said.

The MDC said the arrest and continued detention, without charge, of Biti was "politically motivated" and a part of "malicious" attempts by Mugabe "to frustrate the election campaign of the MDC."

The party also said in a statement that police searched Biti's house in Harare for more than three hours Monday.

Treason can carry the death penalty. The charge arose from a document in which Biti allegedly wrote before the election of a "transition strategy" to take over the government.

Biti is also charged with announcing results of the first round of elections March 29 in breach of election laws.

Biti has denied violating election laws, saying results showing victory by the opposition were made public by officers at polling stations.

Concerns have mounted over the run-off in less than two weeks between opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Mugabe. Since the first round of voting March 29, opposition supporters have been attacked and arrested, and Tsvangirai's attempts to campaign have been thwarted by police.

Tsvangirai has been detained at least six times since he began campaigning for the run-off. Two campaign buses have been impounded.

Mugabe, meanwhile, has campaigned freely at rallies given prominence by the dominant state newspapers and state television and radio.

On Sunday, Mugabe accused aid groups of using food handouts as a weapon to secure votes for the opposition and said they had seized national identity cards to prevent some people from voting, the state Herald reported.

Independent human rights groups have levelled identical allegations against Mugabe's party. U.S. officials said last week security forces confiscated a large U.S. food donation intended for children and gave it to Mugabe supporters.

Earlier this month, the government ordered independent aid agencies to stop all field work, leaving millions of hungry Zimbabweans more dependent on the government.

 
 
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