Church leaders in Zimbabwe called Monday for an end to escalating political violence and "hate language" fueling it as elections approach and the nation slides deeper into a political crisis.
In a pastoral statement, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches urged political leaders to "reflect deeply" and work to resolve outstanding issues before holding elections.
President Robert Mugabe has called for elections this year to end a troubled two-year coalition with the former opposition that was formed after violence-plagued elections in 2008.
Clergy across the country reported a lack of impartiality by police and security forces, a surge in threats and intimidation and a revival of the deployment of militias and other groups that perpetrated the 2008 violence.
Roman Catholic bishops and heads of other Christian denominations criticized politicians for what they described as "occasional denunciation" of violence.
"We believe it must become more regular and translated into reality," they said.
Inflammatory language widely reported in the state media has spurred violence and undermined efforts toward national healing after years of political and economic turmoil.
The churches said they were ready to help promote dialogue within the coalition. They also called for more intervention by regional leaders of the Southern African Development community to resolve outstanding disputes over power-sharing before any election can be held.
They said churches also will hold prayer vigils for peace and proposed the eventual formation of an independent truth, justice and reconciliation commission to deal with "truth telling, acknowledgment of past wrongs and restorative and transitional justice issues."
Police have banned three recent "peace rallies" proposed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party, alleging they clashed with Mugabe party meetings nearby and raised security concerns.
Police have also raided and searched Tsvangirai's party headquarters twice this month.
A close Tsvangirai ally, Energy Minister Elton Mangoma, was arrested for a second time on Friday on allegations of abuse of office involving the purchase of equipment for the state electricity utility and gasoline. He denies any wrongdoing.
The state media controlled by Mugabe loyalists reported Sunday that state law officers were preparing an arrest warrant for the former parliament speaker Lovemore Moyo, Tsvangirai's party chairman, on contempt of court charges.
The state media has also reported that Tsvangirai is under investigation for remarks attributed to him in U.S. diplomatic cables revealed by WikiLeaks that could lead to criminal charges.
A vote for a new speaker is scheduled Tuesday in the Harare parliament. Tsvangirai's party say two of its other lawmakers have been threatened with arrest and nine in all are under police investigation on various allegations they deny.
The party has announced it will boycott Tuesday's vote if police action turns out to be a deliberate ploy to disqualify its lawmakers from casting their ballots and help Mugabe's party to capture the speaker's post.