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United States reports disquiet over preparations for Zimbabwe elections
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    HARARE, Zimbabwe — U.S. officials said Tuesday that Washington was concerned over ‘‘ominous signs’’ Zimbabwe was unprepared to hold free and fair elections next month.
    In an open letter released by the U.S. Embassy, Ambassador James McGee said the U.S. government shared the concerns of a wide variety of organizations that have expressed about the political environment surrounding the March 29 presidential, parliamentary and local council elections.
    Inadequate preparation, voter confusion and evidence of registration irregularities were evident, McGee said.
    Also, ‘‘the violence of the past year will inevitably affect the campaign and the election,’’ he said.
    ‘‘Despite all these ominous signs, however, we urge all Zimbabweans to vote,’’ he said.
    Zimbabwe’s government has not officially responded to McGee, but the state Herald newspaper, a government mouthpiece, on Tuesday described his remarks as ‘‘an unwarranted’’ and unwanted lecture.
    Zimbabweans ‘‘do not need Uncle Sam’s supervision. The days of master and slave are long gone, or hadn’t you noticed,’’ said the paper.
    In neighboring South Africa, the Zimbabwean ambassador accused critics of his government, especially the U.S. and the United Kingdom, of funding the opposition and crippling the country with sanctions.
    ‘‘From the West’s point of view, the electoral process in Zimbabwe can only be free and fair if and as when President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF have been removed from office,’’ Ambassador Simon Khaya Moyo told journalists and diplomats in Pretoria, South Africa. ‘‘They cannot be free and fair unless London or Washington says so.’’
    In Zimbabwe, the independent Zimbabwe Media Monitoring Project reported in its latest bulletin that in the past week the state broadcaster carried 72 positive reports on the ruling party and seven mostly critical reports on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
    Zimbabwe’s sole broadcaster is state run and the only independent daily newspaper and three independent weeklies have been shut down.
    State television news reports devoted 52 minutes to the ruling party and less than four minutes to the main opposition and two minutes to other political groups, according to the media monitoring group.
    Just over four weeks from the ballot, independent election monitors said boundaries of new voting districts remained unclear and chronic shortages of money, gasoline, and logistical support hindered election organizers and opposition campaigners.
    Monitors reported ‘‘chaotic’’ election preparations in some areas and virtually no voter education or other election activities in several distant rural districts.
    But in the remote area of Honde valley in eastern Zimbabwe, ruling party campaigners for Vice President Joyce Mujuru distributed scarce cooking oil, salt, sugar and the corn meal staple to villagers in portions measured in cups and small containers, witnesses said.
    The ruling party raised the equivalent of about $250,000 for Mugabe’s 84th birthday party in southern Zimbabwe on Saturday.
    Associated Press Writer Celean Jacobson contributed to this report from Pretoria, South Africa.

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