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Government warns against premature victory claims

Latest update : 2008-03-30

Zimbabwe's government has warned the opposition MDC party that early victory claims would be viewed as an attempted coup, as the country braces for the results of Saturday's presidential poll.

Zimbabwe's opposition said on  Sunday it had won the most crucial election since independence, but President Robert Mugabe's government warned that premature victory claims would be seen as an attempted coup.

Tendai Biti, secretary general of the main MDC opposition party, told diplomats and observers overnight that early results showed it was victorious. "We have won this election," he said.

Officials said they would begin announcing results of the presidential, parliamentary and local polls on Sunday. Voting ended at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT) on Saturday.

Biti said later the MDC was concerned at delays in announcing results, which traditionally begin emerging soon after polls close.

"We're aware the results are final in most constituencies but they are deliberately taking their time to announce. ... The whole idea of having an election is so you can have a result."

George Chiweshe, chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), had to be rescued by security men in a Harare hotel when he was confronted by journalists and opposition supporters demanding results be published.

Zimbabwe's security forces, which have thrown their backing firmly behind Mugabe, said before the election they would not
allow a victory declaration before counting was complete. Government spokesman George Charamba also warned the opposition against such claims. "It is called a coup d'etat and we all know how coups are handled," he told the state-owned Sunday Mail.

Residents in the eastern opposition stronghold of Manicaland said riot police stopped a victory demonstration by about 200 MDC supporters. There was no violence, they said.

Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, faced his most formidable challenge in the election against MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and ruling ZANU-PF party defector Simba Makoni, who campaigned on the collapse of Zimbabwe's economy.

Although the odds seem stacked against Mugabe, 84, analysts believe he will be declared the winner, and the opposition accused him of widespread vote-rigging.



African observers say they detected fraud in Saturday's ballot.

Mugabe, who accuses the West of sabotaging Zimbabwe's economy, expressed confidence on Saturday he would be returned to office. "We will succeed. We will conquer," he said.

He rejected vote-rigging allegations.

Once-prosperous Zimbabwe is suffering from the world's highest inflation rate of more than 100,000 percent, chronic shortages of food and fuel, and an HIV/AIDS epidemic that has contributed to a steep decline in life expectancy.

Biti said the MDC's election agents had reported early results showed Tsvangirai was projected to win 66 percent of the vote in the capital Harare, an opposition stronghold.

He said Tsvangirai had made significant inroads in Mugabe's rural strongholds by leading in the southern province of Masvingo and Mashonaland Central Province, north of Harare, where the MDC has not won a parliamentary seat since 2000.

Observers from the Pan-African parliament said in a letter to the electoral commission they had found more than 8,000 non-existent voters registered on empty land in a Harare constituency.

Most international observers were banned and a team from the regional grouping, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), did not comment on Sunday. Critics say the SADC, which has tried to mediate over Zimbabwe, is too soft on Mugabe.

If no candidate wins more than 51 percent of the vote, the election will go into a second round.

Date created : 2008-03-30