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HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe has suspended 29 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in one of its provinces including Care International, state media reported on Wednesday, raising worries of a crackdown similar to one that preceded elections in 2008.
President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party kicked out foreign NGO ahead of the poll four years ago, making it difficult for the outside world to provide humanitarian assistance or monitor a vote marred by political violence and voter intimidation.
The ZANU-PF governor of the southerly Masvingo province, Titus Maluleke, said the 29 NGOs had been suspended in Masvingo for ignoring demands to renew their annual registration.
"These organisations have left us with no choice except to suspend them from operating in the province with immediate effect as they have twice failed to submit to the requirements of our laws," he told the Herald daily.
Mugabe wants parliamentary and presidential elections this year, despite having agreed in a 2008 power-sharing deal with the Movement for Democratic Change that they would not be held until 2013, after a new constitution has been put in place.
Local regulations require NGOs to register with both the central government in the capital Harare and with local authorities in the outlying provinces.
A ban in one province does not extend to others, but makes the work of an NGO more difficult.
Among the suspended organisations are the rights groups Zimbabwe Peace Project and Zimbabwe Community Development Programme, as well as Care International, a leading provider of food aid in some of Masvingo's drought-prone districts.
In 2008, at the height of a severe economic and political crisis, ZANU-PF outlawed all food aid agencies. The ban was reversed in 2009 after Mugabe, in power since 1980, was forced into a coalition government with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mugabe and top ZANU-PF figures are subject to international sanctions for suspected human rights abuses and vote rigging.
A first draft of the new constitution, expected to be put to a referendum this year, would significantly limit presidential powers, and bar anyone from running for president if they had spent 10 years or more in the post.