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War veterans march, Mugabe's party prepares for runoff

War veterans march, Mugabe's party prepares for runoff

War veterans staged a silent and muscular show of support on the streets of Zimbabwe's capital Friday for President Robert Mugabe, whose party said he would fight for power in a runoff with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
A week after the opposition made a strong showing at the polls, the weapons the 84-year-old leader still had at his disposal included the feared veterans of the bush war that helped end white minority rule, as well as equally feared security forces. Overnight, intruders ransacked offices of the main opposition party and police detained foreign journalists.
While official presidential election results have not yet been released, independent observers have projected a runoff, saying Tsvangirai won the most votes, but not the 50 percent plus one vote necessary for an outright victory. The election commission announced more results for the 60 elected senate seats Friday night, with the opposition winning 23 to the ruling party's 20.
A team sent to monitor the elections found no evidence of fraud, the head of the African Union Observer Delegation said.
"There was no evidence in support of voting irregularities," Ahmed Tejan Kabbah said at the airport upon returning from more than a week in Zimbabwe.
Kabbah, a former president of Sierra Leone, praised Mugabe, who has been clinging to power since 1980, calling him "a patriot." On his final meeting with Mugabe on Thursday, Kabbah said he found the head of state "relaxed" in spite of reports of the opposition's greater vote tally.
Zimbabwe's opposition party filed an urgent suit late Friday, asking the courts to force the release of the presidential results, according to party spokesman Nelson Chamisa.
Chamisa said the suit called the delay in reporting results unjustified and said it had resulted in "a lot of anxiety being created among the (opposition), the nation at large and the international community." He said the hearing was expected Saturday.
That first "official" word of a runoff came from the ruling ZANU-PF party, pre-empting official results from the ostensibly independent election commission and underlining that Mugabe's party is the country's most powerful authority.
"We agreed to have a rerun at a date to be set by" the electoral commission, Didymus Mutasa, secretary of Mugabe's party as well as a minister in his Cabinet, told reporters late Friday after a five-hour meeting of the party politburo. Diplomats have said Mugabe may try to put the runoff off for three months.
Earlier, police escorted about 400 war veterans as they paraded silently through downtown Harare. The veterans, who spearheaded the often violent takeover of white farms in recent years, appeared to have been transported to town.
Mugabe's party lost its parliamentary majority, according to official results from last Saturday's local council, legislative and presidential voting.
At a news conference, Jabulani Sibanda, head of the Zimbabwe War Veterans' Association, explained the losses by saying that "people were pushed by hunger and illegal sanctions. Under current circumstances the sprit of our people is being provoked. We will be forced to defend our sovereignty."
ZANU-PF leaders sounded a similarly combative tone. After the politburo meeting, Mutasa accused the opposition of bribing electoral officials and said his party would contest results of 16 parliamentary seats.
Mutasa also accused the opposition of promising land to white farmers.
"We are not reversing the land reform _ they will get the shock of their lives," Mutasa said.
The opposition leader has not said he would reverse land reform, but has promised to make an equitable distribution of land to people who know how to farm. Mugabe claimed his land reform was to benefit poor blacks, but gave most seized farms to relatives, friends and cronies, and agricultural production has plunged.
The law requires a runoff within 21 days of the first round. But diplomats in Harare and at the United Nations said Mugabe was planning to declare a 90-day delay to give security forces time to clamp down.
"Mugabe has started a crackdown," MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti told The Associated Press, saying rooms used as offices by the opposition at a Harare hotel were ransacked Thursday by intruders he believed were either police or agents of the feared Central Intelligence Organization.
Biti said Tsvangirai was "safe."
There have been reports of rifts within the highly politicized upper echelons of Zimbabwe's security forces.
An American journalist, meanwhile, was among those detained by heavily armed riot police who surrounded and entered a Harare hotel frequented by foreign reporters, lawyers said. The U.S.-based National Democratic Institute said one of its staff, an American, was detained by authorities at Harare's airport as he tried to leave the country Thursday.
The government had rejected most foreign journalists' applications to cover the elections, and had barred Western election observers.
Lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said Friday that the attorney general had decided there was no case against the two Americans and a third person who was not identified.
However, police had decided to hold them overnight. It was not clear whether new charges would be put to them.
U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters Friday that four Americans had been detained by Zimbabwean authorities on Thursday. Casey said two had been released and were leaving the country, and two were still in custody.
One of those still in custody, he said, was a reporter and had been seen by U.S. officials. The other, he said, had not yet been located by U.S. officials.
Mugabe has ruled since his guerrilla army helped force an end to white minority rule and bring about an independent Zimbabwe in 1980. His popularity has been battered by an economic freefall that followed the often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms in 2000.
Zimbabwean authorities on Friday introduced a new 50 million bank note, state media reported. The new Zimbabwe dollar note is worth US$1 (about 60 euro cents) at the widely used black market exchange rate and can buy just three loaves of bread.


Updated : 2021-10-16 04:27 GMT+08:00