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CNN denied permission to cover elections in Zimbabwe

  • Story Highlights
  • Official gave no reason for the government's decision to bar CNN from the vote
  • "CNN regrets the Zimbabwean government's decision to deny us permission"
  • South Africa's ETV, British TV networks ITV and Sky also denied permission
  • Police have impounded a helicopter that was to carry an opposition leader to rallies
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From Kim Norgaard
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(CNN) -- CNN has been denied permission to cover this week's parliamentary and presidential elections in Zimbabwe, an official at the Zimbabwean Ministry of Information and Publicity said Tuesday.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe waves as he leaves a rally in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, on March 23.

The official, who did not want to be named, gave no reason for the government's decision to bar CNN from the crucial vote.

Reached on the phone in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, the official would not reveal whether any international media organizations had been given permission to cover the election.

A CNN representative issued the following statement in reaction: "CNN regrets the Zimbabwean government's decision to deny us permission to enter the country to cover the parliamentary and presidential elections on Saturday March 29th. We hope that the government will reconsider its decision. CNN will continue to cover the elections as widely as possible from South Africa and surrounding countries."

South Africa's independent station ETV and British TV networks ITV and Sky all said they were denied permission to cover the election as well.

In another development that has opposition leaders crying foul and has increased their concerns about the Saturday poll, Zimbabwean police have impounded a helicopter that was to carry a Zimbabwean opposition leader to rallies, the aircraft's owner said. The helicopter's pilot was arrested, he said.

Wessel Vannenberg, owner of ATS helicopters, told CNN that all paperwork and flight plans had been filed ahead of time with the authorities. He said police gave no reason for their actions.

Movement for Democratic Change, a Zimbabwean opposition party, had hired the helicopter to fly their leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, to campaign rallies, according to Vannenberg.

Roy Bennett of the MDC said the flight plan was filed with the authorities in good time. According to Bennett, the helicopter flew from South Africa to the Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo on Saturday.

Only after the authorities discovered that the intended passenger was Tsvangirai was the flight prohibited from taking off, he said.

As a result, the MDC was forced to cancel four rallies in Matabeleland North, he said.

The pilot, Brent Smyth, was allowed to fly from Bulawayo to Harare early Monday morning before being arrested in the capital, Bennett told CNN.

Vannenberg said the pilot was arrested at 7 a.m. at Charles Prince Airport outside Harare and that the helicopter was grounded.

Smyth, a South African national, has been taken to Harare Central Police station, Vannenberg said.

CNN was unable to reach the Zimbabwean police for comment. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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