HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) - South African President Jacob Zuma, the chief regional mediator on Zimbabwe, said Monday he has rebuked his aides for making "unfortunate statements" on Zimbabwe's lack of readiness to hold crucial elections on July 31.
Significantly softening its stance on the Zimbabwean elections, Zuma's office said in a statement that was released in Zimbabwe that only Zuma was authorized to speak for regional mediators.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, campaigning for the poll, has criticized Lindiwe Zulu, Zuma's international relations advisor, for questioning the southern African nation's ability to hold credible polls in July.
After a chaotic early vote for police and the military officers who will be on duty on polling day, Mugabe described Zulu as "a stupid, idiotic street woman" _ local parlance for a prostitute _ raising the ire of women's equality groups in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The statement said Zuma had noted with "great concern" remarks attributed to his officials in regional media. It made no mention of Mugabe's slur against Zulu.
Regional leaders of the 15-nation economic and political bloc, the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, at their last summit in June, had urged Mugabe to delay the polls until at least after August 14 to address claims that vetting of accurate voters' lists, democratic reforms demanded by SADC and other preparations were far from completion.
Zuma's office said his officials had made "a number of statements have been made which have been unauthorized and which are regrettable and unfortunate. Some of the utterances have also been inaccurate."
Zuma said he also corrected weekend reports that he telephoned Mugabe to express his dissatisfaction with preparations for the Zimbabwe poll.
"No such telephone call has been made," the statement said.
South Africa remains "fully committed" to warm relations with Zimbabwe and wishes the country well as it prepares for elections, the statement added.
A meeting of Zuma, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and President Armando Guebeza of Mozambique, a SADC triumvirate on regional security, in South Africa on Saturday also backed away from criticizing Zimbabwe for rushing toward hasty polls.
In its communique Sunday, it said it noted "problems" that arose during the early police and uniformed services vote on July 13-14 but commended the official state Zimbabwe election commission "for taking up these challenges to be overcome on July 31."
More than half the 70,000 police, soldiers and government officials eligible to cast early ballots failed to vote. The commission said they were turned away when ballot papers and voting materials were not printed and delivered in time at 210 special voting posts.
About 9,600 voting stations are to be set up countrywide for the full election by 6.2 million people listed as registered voters in the population of 13 million.
The communique said regional leaders congratulated Zuma for his "tireless efforts in ensuring that Zimbabwe's political stakeholders hold successful elections" on July 31.
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