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Opposition claim clear lead in Zimbabwe vote as riot police deploy PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 April 2008

AFP, HARARE - Zimbabwe's opposition claimed a clear lead over President Robert Mugabe and his party, as pressure mounted Monday for the swift announcement of full results from presidential and parliamentary polls.

Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since it gained independence in 1980.Riot police patrolled the capital Harare as the first official returns trickled in, putting Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party and challenger Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) neck and neck in the parliamentary election.

The opposition charged that delays in releasing the full results from Saturday's ballots were part of an effort to help Mugabe prolong his 28-year rule. "The people have spoken against the dictatorship," MDC general secretary Tendai Biti told a press conference.

"We are anxiously waiting for the final results. We pray that there will not be recreation and re-engineering of the people's will," Biti said. The MDC's own tally of votes in 128 of the 210 parliamentary seats showed that its leader Tsvangirai had secured 60 percent of votes against 30 for Mugabe in the presidential race.

The party also calculated that it had won 96 out of the same constituencies, with only 106 needed for an overall majority in parliament. The opposition's increasingly bold claims flew in the face of warnings by the authorities not to pre-empt the official verdict.

There was no immediate way to test the veracity of the claims by the MDC which has traditionally enjoyed much stronger support in urban rather than rural areas where Mugabe still has many supporters. The MDC has said it decided to announce its own results because it has little trust in the official electoral commission (ZEC), a supposedly independent body whose executive is appointed by Mugabe.

The ZEC, which has called for patience, announced its first results on Monday morning, nearly 36 hours after polls had closed. In the first 38 constituencies to be declared, the MDC and the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) were each said to have 19 seats. One of the most notable early casualties was Mugabe's outgoing justice minister who lost his seat in the rural Makoni Central constituency.

As hours passed between the announcement of different batches of results, the European Union and the former colonial power Britain called for announcements to be speeded up. "The next few days are critical for the future of Zimbabwe," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said, calling for the voice of the Zimbabwean voters to "be heard without delay".

US State Department spokesman Tom Casey urged the commission "to do the right thing to honour the will of the Zimbabwean people and to make sure that only the votes cast are counted, and that every one of them that was cast is counted."

Fearing the kind of deadly violence which followed Kenya's disputed elections in January, the security services have been placed on alert throughout the country. As people made their way to work on Monday morning, riot police armed with batons and shields were seen patrolling the streets in the centre of the capital although there was no sign of unrest.

Before the polls, police said they would crush any premature celebrations but they were striking a softer line on Monday after a weekend of impromptu victory parties by MDC supporters. "It's human to celebrate but they should not provoke, intimidate or insult others," said national police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena.

After determining the 2002 election was rigged, no representatives from EU countries nor the US have been allowed to oversee the ballot. African countries have largely refrained from speaking out against Mugabe, who has ruled his country since independence from Britain in 1980.

In its report on the election, a team from the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) noted a number of concerns but ultimately declared the vote was a "peaceful and credible expression of the will of the people." As well as Tsvangirai, Mugabe is up against former finance minister Simba Makoni, who is expected to trail in third.

The elections come as Zimbabwe grapples with an inflation rate of over 100,000 percent and widespread shortages of even basic foodstuffs such as bread and cooking oil. The 84-year-old Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader, has blamed the economic woes on the European Union and the United States, which imposed sanctions on his inner circle after he was accused of rigging his 2002 re-election. There has been no word from Mugabe nor Tsvangirai since election day.

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