HARARE, June 22 – Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai quit Zimbabwe’s blood-stained run-off presidential election against Robert Mugabe on Sunday, saying the vote cannot be free and fair.,
"We in the MDC cannot ask them to cast their vote on the 27th when that vote would cost them their lives," Tsvangirai told reporters. "We will no longer participate in the violent illegitimate sham of an election process."
The opposition chief said Mugabe had "declared war by saying that the bullet has replaced the ballot."
"We believe an election that reflects the will of the people is impossible," he said, as he appealed to the United Nations, African Union and regional body SADC to "intervene and stop the genocide".
Sunday’s decision almost certainly handed victory by default to Mugabe, 84, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980.
In its first reaction, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party said Tsvangirai had quit the presidential run-off election "to avoid a humiliating defeat" and that he "had no other option."
The MDC leader said Sunday that South African President Thabo Mbeki had made no proposal to him about a national unity government that could have lifted Zimbabwe out of its crisis.
"You can’t say President Mbeki is going to propose a government of national unity when it has not been put to us," Tsvangirai said.
Tsvangirai spoke as hundreds of stick-wielding youths gathered Sunday at the venue of the Zimbabwean opposition’s main pre-election rally, and the MDC met to decide whether to pull out of the presidential run-off.
Up to 1,000 youths gathered at the rally grounds in the capital Harare before moving on to the nearby headquarters of the ruling ZANU-PF party, witnesses and AFP journalists said.
Police officers and election observers had taken up positions nearby.
The approach to the run-off has been tense, with the MDC saying that authorities had unleashed a terror campaign and that some 70 of its supporters have been killed since the March 29 first round.
Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the March first round of the vote — and the MDC took a majority of parliamentary seats — but he failed to achieve an outright majority of votes needed to become head of state without a run-off.
Mugabe is accused by critics of leading the once model economy to ruin and trampling on human rights. The country has the world’s highest inflation rate and its currency — once at par with the British pound — is in a freefall.
Party leaders met Sunday to debate whether to push ahead and contest the run-off amid the violence, with the MDC showing signs of deep divisions.
The MDC has faced major obstacles while campaigning. Tsvangirai has been detained five times and the party’s number two, Tendai Biti, in jail on subversion and vote-rigging charges and facing the death penalty.
Mugabe has threatened to arrest opposition leaders over the violence, though the United Nations has said supporters of the president were to blame of the bulk of the bloodshed and unrest.
The veteran leader has remained defiant in the face of criticism over conditions ahead of the vote. On Friday he said "only God" could remove him from office.
A South African mediation team was in Zimbabwe at the weekend as part of efforts to resolve the country’s political crisis.