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Three weeks after polls, Zimbabwe begins recount PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 20 April 2008

AFP, MUROMBEDZI - Three weeks after Zimbabwe staged a general election, a partial recount began on Saturday in a move that could see President Robert Mugabe's ruling party regain control of parliament.

Amid growing reports of violence in the troubled southern African nation, the electoral commission, which is still to declare the outcome of the March 29 presidential election, started recounting in 23 constituencies.

The recounts are being conducted following a string of complaints by Mugabe's ZANU-PF party of irregularities in the initial vote counting. The Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front lost in 21 of the 23 constituencies under the microscope and will be hoping that a new count will leave it back in control of the 210-strong chamber.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which currently has 109 seats against 97 for ZANU-PF, has denounced the recount as a ploy to steal back control of parliament and says it won't accept the outcome.

"We as a party will not accept any recount in respect of parliamentary seats ... because ballot boxes have been stuffed," said MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti. "Those ballot boxes have become pregnant and reproduced."

An AFP correspondent in the town of Murombedzi, where the recount for the constituency of Zvimba North was taking place, said that officials began pulling ballots out of their boxes shortly after 9:00 am in the presence of foreign observers as well as agents from the respective candidates.

The electoral commission chairman, George Chiweshe, said results of the recount were only expected on Tuesday at the earliest. "We expect them to complete the recount within the next three to four days," Chiweshe told AFP. The MDC has long regarded the commission, whose leadership is appointed by the government, as a partisan body despite its nominal independent status.

The party's leader Morgan Tsvangirai has already proclaimed himself the victor over Mugabe in the presidential poll, convinced that he won enough votes on March 29 to avoid the need for a second round run-off. The lack of results has not prevented ZANU-PF meanwhile from declaring that there will be a run-off and has endorsed Mugabe as its candidate.

The 84-year-old president avoided any direct mention of the election outcome or whether he would stand in a run-off when he delivered an address Friday at celebrations to mark Zimbabwe's 28th anniversary of independence from Britain. Instead Mugabe, who has ruled uninterrupted since independence, devoted much of his speech to attacks on the former colonial power whom he accused of bribing voters to mark their ballots for the MDC.

Tsvangirai has warned that ZANU-PF is arming itself for a "war" against the people in the aftermath of the elections, pointing as evidence to a shipment of weapons from China destined for Zimbabwe on board a vessel which had been anchored near the South African port of Durban. After a high court judge on Friday refused permission for the weapons to be transported across the country to Zimbabwe, the ship sailed out of Durban for an unknown destination.

In a report issued Saturday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said that ZANU-PF had established a network of informal detention centres to beat, torture, and intimidate opposition activists and ordinary Zimbabweans. "Torture and violence are surging in Zimbabwe," said the organisation's Africa director Georgette Gagnon.

"ZANU-PF members are setting up torture camps to systematically target, beat, and torture people suspected of having voted for the MDC in last month's elections."

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