Ban Ki-moon (photo), UN Secretary General, has said that, following the withdrawal of the opposition candidate, Zimbabwe’s presidential elections should be postponed.
While he was in New York, speaking ahead of a Security Council meeting, Mr Ban said Morgan Tsvangirai’s decision to pull-out of the 27 June run-off was understandable.
He also condemned the campaign of violence and intimidation by government forces as “against the spirit of democracy”.
Earlier, Mr Tsvangirai took refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare.
Mr Tsvangirai had spent the night at the embassy, as he feared for his safety, but had not required asylum, said a Dutch foreign ministry spokesman.
‘Free and fair elections’
Mr Ban said an example of violence was the reports that more than 60 supporters of Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party were arrested in Harare headquarters.
“Conditions do not exist for free and fair elections right now in Zimbabwe”, he said.
“There has been too much violence, too much intimidation. A vote held in these conditions would lack all legitimacy.”
He also said that the world had witnessed “fear, hostility and blatant attacks” against Zimbabwe’s people.
He discussed the issues with a number of African leaders and then said that he strongly advised president Robert Mugabe’s leadership to postpone the election, until the right conditions were in place for people to vote freely and fairly.
What happened in Zimbabwe had significance beyond its borders, added Ban Ki-moon, and was the “single greatest challenge to regional stability”.
‘Quietly preparing himslef’
Bert Koenders, the Dutch Development Co-operation Minister, told the BBC that for the timebeing, Mr Tsvangirai would stay at their Harare embassy.
“I think he feels very safe, he’s quietly preparing himself for the next steps he has to take”, he said.
“I’m sure that he’s thinking exactly about the issues that have been just raised by the secretary general, which is making clear that these elections cannot be legitimate at present.”
President Mugabe and his party, Zanu-PF, blame the opposition for political violence across the country.
In March the parliamentary vote was won by the MDC, which claims to have also won the first round of the presidential contest outright.
And according to official results, Mr Tsvangirai led but failed to gain enough votes to avoid a run-off.