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Zimbabwe vote flawed -- observers

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- The election in Zimbabwe was severely flawed, international and local observers have concluded, as vote counting continues.

The presidential vote was held over the weekend, but extended to a third day following a high court decision.

President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power for 22 years, is battling the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

The Norwegian Observer Mission said on Tuesday: "The observer mission concludes that the presidential elections failed to meet key, broadly accepted criteria for elections."

The head of the 25-member mission, Kare Vollan, said the mission found flaws with every step of the electoral process, from voter registration, to campaigning, to voting.

He added that the state election directorate lacked "convincing independence and integrity" and that security forces used new laws to obstruct the opposition's political activities and observations of the election.

CNN's Charlayne Hunter-Gault reports a number of voters in urban areas are being held while the Zimbabwe ballot count continues (March 12)

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"The presidential elections in Zimbabwe in March 2002 were conducted in an environment of strong polarization, political violence and an election administration with severe shortcomings."

The Norwegians were the largest European observer group at the elections after the European Union withdrew its team because Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe had excluded some EU member states.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw condemned acts of violence, intimidation and voting irregularities during the election, when he spoke to fellow parliamentarians in London on Tuesday.

He said the actions of Mugabe's ZANU-PF supporters made it a "terrible period" for democracy in the country.

"There has been every sign of Zanu PF-backed violence and intimidation right up to the close of polling, as well as many reports of irregularities, including a shortage of polling booths in urban areas and the harassment of opposition election agents in rural areas," he added.

"But, of course, if it becomes clear, and the evidence is already pretty strong, that President Mugabe in the event of him being declared the winner, has stolen the election -- that has enormous implications for the nature of our relationship with Zimbabwe."

The election was strongly criticized by the opposition party and internal monitors.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a coalition of non-governmental organisations, said the election included flawed voter rolls, intimidation and attacks on voters by police and ruling party militants and the deployment of voting stations in a way that clearly favoured Mugabe.

"The election is total confusion and chaos ... There is no way these elections can be described as substantially free and fair," network chairman Reginald Matchaba-Hove said.

"Even as the vote counting begins, tens of thousands of Zimbabweans have been deliberately and systematically disenfranchised."

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Committee, a collection of church and civic groups, said: "The election well has been poisoned to such an extent that there is unlikely to be any other result" than a Mugabe victory.

Committee head Brian Raftopolous said they were discussing whether to organise a nationwide general strike to channel voter anger into a peaceful protest.

"We are concerned about a spontaneous eruption of anger, particularly in urban areas," he said.

The secretary-general of the MDC, Welshman Ncube, appeared in a Harare Magistrate's Court on Tuesday in connection with an alleged plot to assassinate Mugabe. Ncube had earlier been charged with high treason in connection with the plot.

Ncube, who has denied the charges, was ordered to pay 500,000 Zimbabwean dollars ($9,000) bail and told to return to court on March 30. Tsvangirai and another opposition official had also been charged.

As officials delivered ballot boxes to central counting stations in 120 voting districts early on Tuesday, the opposition party complained that its observers had been locked out of counting centres in Harare and the country's second city, Bulawayo, and that ruling party militants were trying to intimidate opposition observers at two other counting centres.

Zimbabwe's information minister Jonathan Moyo denied there was foul play, saying the ruling party did not have the capacity to rig the election even if it wanted to.

"It's absolutely a figment of someone's (imagination who) is staring defeat in the face to say there was disenfranchisement of one voter in Harare," he told state television.


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