Violence flares up in Zimbabwe
Harare - A Zimbabwe violence monitoring group said on Saturday there has been an upswing in violence in the past month since the president said he will call elections this year even if called-for democratic reforms are not made.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project said monitors reported a 15% increase in human rights violations that were "directly linked" to the new push for polls in 2012.
The independent peace monitoring project said President Robert Mugabe's efforts to force elections this year resulted in 413 reported cases of people's rights being violated in February alone, compared to 365 cases reported by witnesses in January.
The peace project said party infighting led to one death in eastern Zimbabwe last month.
It said traditional and community leaders have been recorded as the major perpetrators of human rights violations in most rural districts.
Voters were also being coerced to attend political meetings and emergency food supplies were again being used as a political weapon in several hunger-prone districts, the project said.
State media loyal to Mugabe on Saturday reported that he reiterated what he said in a broadcast marking his 88th birthday in February that he can call elections this year with or without democratic reforms.
Mugabe said if reforms are not adopted by May, he will proceed to polling to end a shaky three-year coalition with the former opposition, the state Herald newspaper said on Saturday.
It said Mugabe was addressing party leaders on Friday. He told them he wanted a referendum on a new constitution to be held by the end of May.
An all-party panel of lawmakers in charge of constantly delayed rewriting of constitutional law says it won't be ready for a referendum before August at the earliest.
The Herald said Mugabe told members of his party's policymaking central committee to advise colleagues in the coalition with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's party - known as Zimbabwe's "inclusive government" - that constitutional and electoral reforms must be quickly completed or he will go to elections unilaterally.
"Let's conclude the process, whether we agree or disagree. The dance we have had ... is over. Let us have an election and end this animal called inclusive government," he said, The Herald reported.
He said he would call the poll under the existing constitution and accused reformers of delaying tactics.
"They are delaying the process arguing on small matters, but we are saying no, no, no," he said. "They are out of step. If they haven't finished in time, we will do it our way."