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Mugabe meets UN official ahead of run-off

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe met top UN official Haile Menkerios Tuesday, ahead of tense run-off elections. Mugabe has vowed to retain power in the country even as hyper-inflation and food shortages threaten stability.

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Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe met a top United Nations official Tuesday, a source close to the UN said, 10 days before a run-off election that rights groups and Western powers say is tainted by violence.

Haile Menkerios, UN assistant secretary general for political affairs responsible for Africa, arrived late Monday to evaluate the political situation in the country with violence mounting before the second round of the presidential poll.

No details of his meeting with Mugabe were disclosed.

"He (Menkerios) met with the president just before lunch," the source, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

The UN delegation held internal talks after the meeting, the source added.

Menkerios's visit, set to run through Friday, follows talks between UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Mugabe on the sidelines of a food summit in Rome earlier this month.

Ban has said he told Mugabe that "there should be no further violence and that this forthcoming presidential run-off election should be held in a most transparent, fair, competitive and credible way."

The UN chief said he also urged Mugabe to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered.

The Zimbabwean government has suspended all aid work after accusing non-governmental organisations of siding with the opposition, prompting charities to warn of a potential crisis as the country faces the world's highest inflation rate and food shortages.

Mugabe threatened to arrest the leadership of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party on Monday over the violence, though the UN has said the president's supporters were responsible for the bulk of it.

The 84-year-old leader has also said in recent days that the opposition will never come to power in his lifetime, vowing to fight to keep it from happening.

The MDC claims more than 60 of its supporters have been killed since the first round of the election on March 29, and party leader Morgan Tsvangirai has said the country is now run by what is essentially a "military junta."

Tsvangirai, who faces Mugabe in the run-off, has been detained five times in the last couple weeks as he has sought to campaign.

The opposition's number two, Tendai Biti, was arrested on suspicion of treason minutes after returning to Zimbabwe last week from a long stay in South Africa. Police have held him since his arrest on Thursday, though he still has not been officially charged.

"Six days later they still have not charged him, which vindicates our position that the charges are ludicrous, frivolous and vexatious, only intended to frustrate our campaign," the MDC said in a statement Tuesday.

A top official from Zimbabwe's ZANU-PF ruling party, during a visit to Mozambique on Tuesday, blamed opposition activists for violence.

"Lots of MDC activists have been arrested and they are in prison," said Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is also rural housing minister and seen as a potential successor to Mugabe.

"ZANU-PF has denounced violence. We do not want violence -- violence can be traced to MDC."

Human Rights Watch has warned that the increasing levels of political violence have extinguished hopes for a free and fair election, while signs of a crackdown ahead of the vote have drawn outrage from Western governments.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday called Mugabe's regime "desperate and criminal", saying he must not be allowed to "steal" the election.

Mugabe has often sought to portray Tsvangirai as a puppet of former colonial power Britain and has warned that Western powers were seeking "illegal regime change" in Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the March first round, but with an official vote total just short of an outright majority.

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