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Tsvangirai rejects election date

President Robert Mugabe's declaration of a July 31 election was rejected on Thursday.

Zimbabwe Prime Minister and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai pictured on March 15, 2013 talking to church leaders about upcoming elections. Picture: AFP/JEKESAI NJIKIZANA

HARARE - Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai rejected President Robert Mugabe's declaration of a July 31 election on Thursday, accusing his rival of breaching the constitution and creating a political crisis.

The Constitutional Court ordered Mugabe two weeks ago to hold the poll by the end of July, following an application to the court by a Zimbabwean citizen demanding the president set a date before the current parliament expired.

Mugabe, who had anyway been pushing for an early vote, announced the election date on Thursday - fast-tracking changes to election laws by using a presidential decree to by-pass parliament.

A furious Tsvangirai, his partner in a fractious unity government, criticised him for complying with the court ruling rather than seeking an extension to the July 31 deadline.

The prime minister said Zimbabwe should hold the vote no earlier than August 25 to allow for reforms of the media and security forces to ensure the poll was fair.

He said Mugabe, leader of the Zanu-PF party, was violating the constitution and a power-sharing agreement set up after bloody and disputed polls five years ago, by not consulting him before announcing the election date.

"President Mugabe has acted unlawfully and unconstitutionally and is deliberately creating and precipitating an unnecessary constitutional crisis," Tsvangirai told a news conference.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, of Zanu-PF, told foreign diplomats that it would have set a dangerous precedent if Mugabe had defied the court order. He also said a new constitution signed by the president last month regulated the conduct of security forces, and that Tsvangirai's demands had no merit.

He said the biggest issue for Zanu-PF was securing the removal of Western sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle.

Zimbabwe is emerging from a decade of economic decline blamed on Mugabe and the political uncertainty has put a drag on a recovery. The economy probably contracted by up to 3 percent in the first quarter, according to Finance Minister Tendai Biti.

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