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FILE PHOTO: Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa looks on after delivering the State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Harare, Zimbabwe, December 20, 2017. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

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HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe will hold elections in four to five months, a newspaper on Thursday quoted President Emmerson Mnangagwa as saying, the first time since independence the southern African state will conduct a vote that does not involve former ruler Robert Mugabe.

Mnangagwa, who took over after Mugabe was forced to resign in November following a defacto military coup, was speaking during an official trip to Mozambique, the official Herald newspaper reported.

The international community will be closely watching the vote, which is seen as a litmus test of Mnangagwa's democratic credentials and is key to unlocking badly needed financial assistance and repairing relations with Western powers and international financial institutions.

"Zimbabwe is going for elections in four to five months' time and we have to preach peace, peace and peace because we know it is good for us and we have no doubt that we will have peaceful elections," Mnangagwa was quoted as saying.

"We will ensure that Zimbabwe delivers free, credible, fair and indisputable elections to ensure Zimbabwe engages the world as a qualified democratic state."

Under the constitution, Zimbabwe should hold elections between July 22 and August 22 but parliament can elect to dissolve itself, triggering an early vote. The ruling ZANU-PF holds a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Since 2000, elections in Zimbabwe have been marred by political violence and disputes, which led to the country becoming an international pariah under Mugabe's 37-year rule.

The next vote will pit Mnangagwa against the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, whose leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is suffering cancer, a development that has weakened and divided his party.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Reuters