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EU extends restrictions on Zimbabwe's Mugabe

European Union officials said Tuesday they will extend visa bans and an asset freeze against Zimbabwe's president and his close allies for another year.

Emilio Rossetti, the chief EU representative in Zimbabwe, said Tuesday there was insufficient progress on political reform to justify a policy change toward the country.

He said restrictions will remain for another year on 163 individuals and 31 companies in Zimbabwe. He said the EU will also lift targeted sanctions on 35 people, removing their names from the EU list for the first time after a review of political developments.

European nations and the U.S. imposed the measures to protest President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party's role in a decade of state-orchestrated political violence and human rights abuses.

Mugabe insists the restrictions have destroyed the economy though his critics blame Zimbabwe's economic woes on mismanagement that began with the often-violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms in 2000 by Mugabe's party.

The extension of targeted sanctions comes at the heels of fresh political violence in recent weeks after Mugabe called for elections later this year. That vote would bring to an end the shaky coalition government Mugabe formed with former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in 2009.

Mugabe has ruled since 1980, despite 2008 elections that were violent and widely condemned as fraudulent.

Rossetti said no efforts have been made to create an environment for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe scheduled for this year. He said he was deeply concerned at the upsurge in political violence in the country.

"Further reforms are necessary with regard to respect for the rule of law, human rights and democracy which are essential to create an environment conducive for the holding of credible elections," he said. "I have to express my deep concerns at the upsurge in political violence seen in recent weeks.

"These measures are not affecting the people of Zimbabwe at large and the economic impact of the sanctions is negligible. They are just preventing certain people from traveling and having their assets frozen," Rossetti said.

Mugabe's party has embarked on an anti-sanctions campaign and has demanded that executives of British and American companies publicly denounce economic restrictions or risk losing control of their businesses.