Harare - The chief election observer from Namibia, a strong ally of President Robert Mugabe, said on Tuesday that political violence ahead of Zimbabwe's hotly contested presidential election was "exaggerated".

"It is our considered view that the prevalence of violence is exaggerated," Kaire Mbuende told a news conference, adding that "there is violence associated with the electioneering process coming from both sides of the political divide".

Civil rights groups and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have reported a surge in political violence that has left at least 26 people dead so far this year.

The MDC says more than 90 of its supporters have been killed in politically motivated attacks since the party shot to prominence two years ago.

But Mbuende said voter education had made "the majority of people in Zimbabwe beyond intimidation".

He also deplored sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States against Mugabe and his inner circle.

"These measures are in our view not helping the situation but aggravating it," he said. "The imposition of sanctions during an electioneering process could be construed as an attempt to influence the outcome of the elections."

The EU and the United States have imposed targeted sanctions on Mugabe's regime over the deteriorating conditions in the run-up to the March 9-10 elections.

Mugabe is battling to extend his 22-year rule, but faces a formidable challenge from MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. - Sapa-AFP