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Zimbabwe white farmer killed as African leaders prepare to discuss election with Mugabe

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ A white farmer was killed Monday in escalating postelection violence as President Robert Mugabe prepared to meet the leaders of South Africa and Nigeria to discuss Zimbabwe's disputed presidential vote.

Several independent observer groups have condemned the March 9-11 elections as deeply flawed and unfairly structured to ensure Mugabe's re-election.

South African President Thabo Mbeki and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo were to meet Mugabe on Monday to discuss the conduct of the election and the future of Zimbabwe after two years of widespread violence blamed mainly on ruling party militants. Mbeki was also expected to meet with opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mbeki, Obasanjo and Australian Prime Minister John Howard were scheduled to meet Tuesday in London to discuss possible actions against Zimbabwe by the 54-nation Commonwealth of Britain and its former colonies.

The Commonwealth observer mission said the election did not adequately allow voters to freely express their choice. Industrialized nations of the Commonwealth have called for Zimbabwe's expulsion for abusing the group's charter on democratic rights.

Since Mugabe was declared the winner of the elections last week, white farmers have reported on upsurge in violence.

A white farmer was shot dead near Norton, about 20 miles west of Harare early Monday in an assault on his homestead by suspected ruling party militants, the Commercial Farmers Union said.

He was the 10th white farmer killed since militants began often violent occupations of white-owned land two years ago.

Terry Ford, 51, contacted neighbors late Sunday and reported a group of about 20 militants were besieging his home, union spokeswoman Jenni Williams said.

Police reported his death around dawn.

Ford smashed his car into a farm fence to make a getaway but was dragged from the vehicle and shot in the head against a tree in an execution-style killing, the union said.

``There is great concern there has been more activity in the last week in terms of evicting farmers and looting homes'' across the country, Williams said.

Ford's political affiliation was unknown, but white farmers have been accused of providing transport and logistical backing for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, the biggest-ever threat to Mugabe's rule.

Mugabe led the nation to independence from Britain in 1980 and faced little dissent until recent years, when the nation's economy collapsed and political violence erupted.

Mugabe won the presidential vote with a disputed 56 percent of votes to Tsvangirai's 42 percent.

Since 2000, more than 1,700 white farms were occupied and the government announced plans to nationalize about 4,500 white-owned properties _ 95 percent of land owned by whites _ for redistribution to landless blacks.

Whites make up less than 1 percent of the country's population but own about a third of the nation's commercial farmland.

The opposition, which narrowly lost parliamentary elections in June 2000, accused Mugabe of seizing land to shore up his waning support and unleashing a campaign of terror to intimidate opposition supporters. At least 150 people have died and tens of thousands have been left homeless, most of them opposition supporters, human rights groups said.
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