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Zimbabwe presidential election set for June 27
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe addresses the central committee meeting at his party's headquarters in Harare, Friday, May, 16, 2008. An election runoff between Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai runoff will be held June 27, the electoral commission said in an announcement published Friday. - photo by Associated Press
    HARARE, Zimbabwe — An election runoff between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will be held June 27, the electoral commission said in an announcement published Friday.
    The opposition, which wanted a May 23 runoff, said the election date had been extended illegally, but agreed to participate.
    The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission moved the deadline for holding the runoff to 90 days — beyond the legally required 21 days.
    ‘‘This is a regime which operates not on the basis of the law, but operates on the basis of impunity from the law. So they are changing goal posts to suit themselves,’’ Tsvangirai told reporters in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he was attending an international conference of liberal party members.
    Mugabe expressed determination Friday to hold on to the presidency, telling supporters at party headquarters that while he would one day ‘‘be succeeded,’’ it would not be by an opposition he accuses of being prepared to lead the country back to colonists.
    He said while the opposition did not win the presidency outright in March, the election ‘‘was indeed disastrous’’ for his party, which lost its majority in parliament to Tsvangirai’s party for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980.
    Tsvangirai claims he won the March 29 presidential race outright, but official results released May 2 show he did not win enough votes to avoid a second round against Mugabe.
    The opposition as well as local and international human rights groups have accused Mugabe’s party of delaying the runoff to mount a campaign of violence and intimidation against opposition supporters.
    The election commission chairman, in an interview published Friday with the Herald newspaper, a government mouthpiece, attributed the extension to the commission’s need for ‘‘substantial’’ resources to conduct the poll.
    ‘‘The runoff is a full election and just as big as any general election,’’ the paper quoted George Chiweshe as saying. ‘‘Some of the resources were depleted during the first election, so we need more time to prepare for the runoff.’’
    Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change said Thursday the postelection violence was intensifying, and that 33 of its supporters and activists already had been killed.
    ‘‘This country cannot afford 90 days’’ of more violence and economic instability, the party’s secretary-general, Tendai Biti, told reporters Thursday in Johannesburg, South Africa.
    Biti and Tsvangirai have been out of the country since shortly after the March 29 vote.
    In Belfast, Tsvangirai said he ‘‘must return to Zimbabwe to be with our people and to lift them out of the darkness.’’
    George Sibotshiwe, Tsvangirai’s spokesman, said no date for the leader’s return has been set yet. ‘‘We don’t know when he is expected back in Harare. We are working on it,’’ he said.
    Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 and once was hailed for promoting racial reconciliation and bringing education and health care to the black majority.
    But in recent years he has been accused of holding onto power through elections that independent observers say were marred by fraud, intimidation and rigging, and of overseeing his country’s economic collapse.
    Associated Press Writer Shawn Pogatchnik in Belfast, Northern Ireland contributed to this report.

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