''Conditions do not exist for free and fair elections right now in Zimbabwe,'' Mr Ban told reporters in New York yesterday. ''It has been too much violence, too much intimidation. A vote held in these conditions would lack all legitimacy.'' Last night, the Security Council also condemned the political violence engulfing Zimbabwe and called on the government there to stop the attacks, to cease intimidating the opposition and to release political leaders who have been detained.
In a statement read out by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad of the United States, which holds the rotating Council presidency this month (June), the 15-member powerful UN body said, ''The violence and restrictions on the activities of the opposition have made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place on Friday.'' ''To be legitimate, any government of Zimbabwe must take into account of the interests of all its citizens,'' the presidential statement said, adding that the results of the first round of elections on 29 March should be respected.
Council members urged international monitors and observers to remain in Zimbabwe until the crisis is resolved and welcomed the recent efforts of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and especially South African President Thabo Mbeki, to find a peaceful settlement that allows a legitimate government to be formed that reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people.
They also voiced concern at the grave humanitarian situation and condemned the Government's decision to suspend the operation of aid organisations.
The Secretary-General, who has been in touch with a number of African leaders on the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe, added that they all agreed that the elections should be postponed until the right conditions are in place.
''I would strongly discourage the authorities with going ahead with the run-off on Friday. It will only deepen divisions within the country and produce a result that cannot be credible,'' he stated.
Yesterday Morgan Tsvangirai, of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, announced he was withdrawing from the run-off in which he was set to face President Robert Mugabe. The country has been marred by deadly political violence since the first round of the presidential election on 29 March.
''The campaign of threats and intimidation we have seen in Zimbabwe goes against the very spirit of democracy,'' the Secretary-General adding ''Instead of openness, free competition and transparency, we have witnessed fear, hostility and blatant attacks against Zimbabwean citizens.'' He added that what happens in Zimbabwe has an impact well beyond the country's borders. ''The situation in Zimbabwe represents the single greatest challenge to regional stability in Southern Africa today,'' he remarked.
''The region's political and economic security are at stake as is the very institution of elections in Africa,'' he said.
Last week, Mr Ban sent senior UN political official Haile Menkerios to Zimbabwe in an attempt reduce political tensions. Mr Menkerios remains in the region, after having met with officials in both Zimbabwe and neighbouring South Africa.