The US ambassador to Zimbabwe warned post-election violence is “spinning out of control”, as the government set a date for a second-round run-off.
James McGee told the BBC he had found evidence of “politically-inspired” violence against hundreds of people.
The diplomat warned the situation made it impossible for the second vote, set for 27 June, to be fair.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the first round, but not by enough to avoid a run-off with President Robert Mugabe.
The US ambassador said he had uncovered “firm evidence” of state-sponsored political bloodshed against supporters of Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the aftermath of the elections on 29 March.
He told the BBC’s Newsnight programme: “Violence is spinning out of control.
“Too many people have been killed, too many people have been maimed, too many people have been dislocated from their homes.”
He said the attacks involved “mainly beatings to the back and buttocks, we’ve seen quite a few broken limbs, we’ve seen cuts to the head”.
He also said he had met an elderly woman who had been struck with a hatchet.
“Her two grand-sons were activists with the MDC party,” said Mr McGee.
“They were beaten up and then the people who beat them up found their grandmother and hit this 80-year-old woman in the head with an axe.”
Mr McGee said he had met the victims on a fact-finding trip with British, Japanese, EU, Dutch and Tanzanian diplomats, during which he said they were harassed by police.
Along with so-called war veterans, he said they had evidence “police and military are involved in these attacks”.
It was “pure unadulterated violence designed to intimidate people from voting in the next election”, he said.
But the state-owned Herald newspaper poured scorn on the US ambassador’s claims in an editorial, accusing the US of trying to demonise Zimbabwe.
And Zanu-PF spokesman Bright Matonga told the BBC: “Let me make it very clear that the Zimbabwe government does not support any violence – whether by MDC or Zanu-PF.”
Mr Mugabe told a Zanu-PF meeting on Friday the party should have been more prepared for the election.
“Although the presidential result did not yield an outright winner, it was indeed disastrous,” he said.
Mr Tsvangirai told the BBC’s Orla Guerin Zanu-PF had made “overtures” to the MDC about the possibility of a national unity government.
He has said he will contest the second-round vote, after originally threatening to boycott it.
Mr Tsvangirai has also accused Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party of a campaign of violence and torture against opposition activists, as well as vote-rigging.
The opposition leader has been out of Zimbabwe since the first-round vote because of alleged threats to his life.
But the MDC says he will return to address a rally in Bulawayo on Sunday.
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