Zimbabwe election officials and the opposition locked horns Thursday over the outcome of a March 29 presidential poll with the main challenger claiming an outright victory over veteran leader Robert Mugabe.
Election officials told all-party talks designed to reach agreement on the voting figures that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had won 47.8 percent and Mugabe had won 43.2 percent, according to several sources in the meeting.
But the Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC) in turn presented its own figures claiming Tsvangirai had won 50.3 percent, just scraping past the threshold needed to avoid a second round run-off, the sources added.
Although the talks were due to resume at 0700 GMT on Friday, the disagreement paves the way for yet further delays to the final results of a vote that took place nearly five weeks ago.
Tsvangirai, who is currently in South Africa, again insisted in an interview he saw no need for a run-off but refusal to participate in a second round will merely hand victory on a plate to his 84-year-old rival Mugabe.
Representatives for Mugabe and Tsvangirai, as well as two minor presidential candidates, met at a Harare hotel for the talks chaired by chief elections officer Lovemore Sekeramayi in the presence of observers and diplomats.
"Where we don't agree, we will pull out every relevant document to ensure we have the same figures," commission chairman George Chiweshe said earlier.
"At some stage, we have to agree," Chiweshe said.
Tsvangirai, whose party wrested control of parliament from Mugabe's ZANU-PF party in legislative polls also held on March 29, reiterated his claim on Thursday in an interview that he had won more a "decisive" victory and doubted the credibility of any result from the commission given the lengthy delays.
Based on results from individual polling stations, the MDC has "come up with a result which we feel is credible. That result gives us a decisive victory so there's no need for a run-off," Tsvangirai said.
In his interview with the news channel France 24, Tsvangirai accused Mugabe of unleashing a wave of violence which he said would make it impossible for a second round of voting to be free and fair.
"How can you have a run-off when Mugabe over the last month has been unleashing violence, death squads and violence against our structures?"
Zimbabwean and international rights groups say an upsurge in violence is designed to instill fear in MDC ranks. The MDC says 20 of its supporters have been killed by pro-government militias since the vote.
A first-round defeat would be a major blow to Mugabe, a former guerrilla leader and hero of Africa's national liberation movements who has ruled the former British colony uninterrupted since independence.
Already reeling from his party losing parliament for the first time in 28 years, it would leave him at his weakest point since coming to power amid a spiralling economic crisis in Zimbabwe, where inflation is at 165,000 percent.
However, his control of the security apparatus has led the MDC to conclude that he will simply intimidate voters into giving him a sixth term of office at a run-off which should take place within three weeks of the results.
Tsvangirai has been out of the country for most of the time since the election, trying to drum up diplomatic support across southern Africa, although he indicated he would return after the results became clear.
A third candidate, former finance minister Simba Makoni is widely expected to back Tsvangirai in any second round. A fourth, Langton Towungana, is unlikely to get even one percent.
Poll projections released by Zimbabwe's main independent election monitoring body soon after the polls gave Tsvangirai 49.4 percent, Mugabe 41.8 percent, Makoni 8.2 percent and Towungana 0.6 percent.