BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union will review relations with Zimbabwe given its "serious concerns" about the conduct of the southern African state's election, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Thursday.
The EU's verdict on the fairness of the elections will be crucial to a decision on whether it continues to ease sanctions against Zimbabwe. Ashton did not broach the issue of such sanctions in her statement.
President Robert Mugabe is to be sworn back into office soon after winning the July 31 election, extending - at age 89 - his 33-year rule dating back to independence from Britain. The United States said earlier this week it believed the vote was flawed and did not plan to loosen sanctions.
Ashton said the 28-member EU shared the "serious concerns" raised in the initial assessment of the election by the Southern African Development Community, African Union and domestic observers.
"The EU underlines the importance and need to continue strengthening reforms to ensure that future elections are fully transparent and credible as well as peaceful," she said.
"The EU will review its relations with Zimbabwe, taking account of all these factors."
(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by John O'Donnell and Mark Heinrich)