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INTRO: American newspapers continue to comment on the crackdown on the media and political opposition in Zimbabwe ahead of March presidential elections.

Most United States newspapers see it as a campaign to keep President Robert Mugabe in power, against the popular will. We have a sampling of some of the latest comments now from V-O-A's ____________ in today's U-S Opinion Roundup.

TEXT: Although Zimbabwe has a parliamentary form of government, it holds a separate election for president. That election, a little more than a month away, will be held March ninth and tenth. As the groundswell of opposition to President Robert Mugabe grows, so do repressive laws seemingly designed to help insure him another victory.

/// OPT /// Last week, parliament in Harare approved a law forcing both domestic and foreign reporters to get a government license to report. Another law recently passed bans opposition party political rallies that fail to get a police permit four days in advance. /// END OPT /// The new statues drew criticism in a recent Houston Chronicle editorial.

VOICE: With Zimbabwe's national elections only a few weeks away, it is increasingly obvious that the regime of President .Mugabe is intent on hiding behind the trappings of democracy while doing everything in its power to thwart it. The election . will be contested amid the country's biggest political and economic crisis since independence 22 years ago. . The latest offense to fairness is a sweeping media bill that restricts access for foreign reporters and imposes tight controls and licensing restrictions on local media.

One of the basic tenets of democracy is a free press. How would it be possible to hold fair and open elections without it? Chillingly, Zimbabwe's rulers don't see it that way. . Aside from the rights of the people of Zimbabwe, the stability of southern Africa is at stake. That should be reason enough in these troubled days for Americans to be concerned.

TEXT: Excerpts from a Houston Chronicle editorial.

To Florida next, where we read more criticism of Mr. Mugabe's rule in The Saint Petersburg Times:

VOICE: . the increasingly tyrannical president of Zimbabwe has taken a prosperous, thriving African country and turned it to ruin. Where once Zimbabwe exported agricultural products.the nation now faces severe food shortages and soaring unemployment. [Mr.] Mugabe is about to face an election he would surely lose if it were conducted freely and fairly. But [President] Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980, has no intention of giving up the presidency. To ensure victory . he is escalating his campaign of intimidation and violence. . As the election draws near, more extreme tactics are being adopted under the guise of officialdom.

.When the foreign press is expelled and the domestic press put under government control, a nation can no longer claim to be free and democratic. Without . accountability . the coming elections will be a sham.

TEXT: The Saint Petersburg Times.

From the nation's capital, The Washington Post urges the U-S administration to push for greater democracy in Zimbabwe:

VOICE: . Zimbabwe, which once boasted economic stability, fairly free elections and an independent judiciary and press [has started] . to slide backward into authoritarianism. The damage done on the way down - - the destruction of political parties, the silencing of journalists - - will prove exceedingly difficult to reverse. . The aging and autocratic Robert Mugabe . has rammed a new security bill through parliament that bans criticism of the president. He has allowed thugs to disrupt opposition rallies. He has intimidated and detained critical journalists. He has bullied judges..

Whatever the outcome in Zimbabwe's election, the past few months suggest a lesson for American engagement in the developing world. The United States and Europe have both been slow in threatening sanctions, because they hoped that Zimbabwe's southern African neighbors would take the lead in pressuring Mr. Mugabe. As it turned out . they could have been a lot more forceful . The United States needs to do whatever it can to turn timid African advocates of democracy into bold ones.

TEXT: Portions of a Washington Post editorial. The Dallas Morning News expresses concern over political stability in Zimbabwe:

VOICE: Once a heroic freedom fighter, Robert Mugabe is among Africa's great disappointments. Now an unquestionably corrupt autocrat, his endorsement of strong-armed seizure of white-owned farms and numerous other abuses have left Zimbabwe's economy and citizen rights in shambles. Unless he rigs it, he will be brushed from office in March's presidential election. He knows it. The world knows it. And that makes Mr. Mugabe dangerous and Zimbabwe's political stability tenuous.

TEXT: The views of The Dallas Morning News.

The Washington Times says Mr. Mugabe will not be able to hold onto power.

VOICE: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is in denial. The aging strongman promised to hold free and fair elections at .[the] Southern African Development Community [SADC] summit in Malawi. This, just after the Zimbabwean parliament, dominated by his . party, passed laws to criminalize criticism of the president, ban independent election monitors, and deny millions of Zimbabweans living abroad the ability to vote. Indeed, there is much to criticize about Mr. Mugabe's reign. His "land reform" policy backs militant blacks in the forced takeover of land from white - - and more recently, black - - farmers, preventing the production of tobacco, which supplies Zimbabwe with thirty percent of its export earnings. Yet Mr. Mugabe still doesn't realize he is on his way out.

TEXT: And with that we conclude this editorial sampling from the U-S press, on the approaching presidential election in Zimbabwe.


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