Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Louder demands for release of Zim election results

HARARE, Zimbabwe: International calls for Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe to release long-delayed results from a presidential vote mounted Wednesday, as ruling party militants continued to overrun white-owned farms and the opposition accused the government of waging a campaign of violence.

It has been 11 days since Zimbabweans voted for president but no official results have been released. The opposition claims that it won the March 29 vote outright and is asking a High Court judge to force publication of the tally. Hearings were to continue Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a state-controlled newspaper claimed that Mugabe's opponent was "begging" for the post of vice president — stepping up a push to depict his party as ready to concede.

Morgan Tsvangirai asked for the vice presidency in a government of national unity "after being told by his advisers that a possible runoff with President Mugabe for the top job was not in his best interests," The Herald newspaper reported.

The opposition has repeatedly dismissed claims that it is seeking a unity government as lies spread by a government propaganda campaign. On Tuesday, the secretary-general of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Tendai Biti, said it was "rubbish, rubbish, rubbish."

"We won this election," he said. The opposition maintains that it won the vote outright, with no need for a runoff. Australia's government appealed Wednesday for the quick release of results,
following on similar calls by the United Nations, Britain, the European Union and the United States.

"There is simply no excuse for them being withheld more than a week after the poll," Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said in a statement. "There are mixed signals from the Zimbabwe government on the next steps but all appear to add up to a lack of respect for the will of the people," he said.

Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe for 28 years with an increasingly dictatorial regime, has virtually conceded that he did not win and already appears to be campaigning for an expected runoff against Tsvangirai by intimidating his foes and fanning racial tensions.

Zimbabwe's opposition has accused Mugabe of an orchestrated campaign of violence and of unleashing ruling party militants to drive dozens of white farmers off their land.

Biti said there had been "massive violence" since the elections in traditional ruling party strongholds that voted for the opposition. Ruling party militants, used previously to intimidate government opponents, were being rearmed, he said.

Government officials said there had been no outbreak of violence. Reports that people are being beaten up and their homes torched have circulated in the capital in recent days but could not be confirmed because of the danger of traveling to the areas.

Zimbabwe's commercial farmers union has said ruling party supporters have forced dozens of white farmers off their land. Such seizures started in 2000 as Mugabe's response to his first defeat at the polls — a loss in a referendum designed to entrench his presidential powers.

Several farmers reached by The Associated Press said the invasions of their land continued overnight Tuesday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were worried about recrimination.

Mugabe's party has called for a re-count and a further delay in the release of results. The opposition has urged the international community, and African leaders in particular, to try to persuade Mugabe to step down.

Jacob Zuma, the leader of South Africa's governing African National Congress party, repeated earlier entreaties that "results be announced as a matter of urgency," spokeswoman Jessie Duarte said Wednesday. She cautioned however, that he has made no specific appeal to the government.

Source: AFP

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