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Opposition leader says voters forced to choose Mugabe

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  • NEW: U.N. Security Council says "conditions for free and fair elections did not exist"
  • Ruling Zanu-PF party says election free and fair, denies intimidation
  • Zimbabweans voted Friday in runoff presidential elections
  • Mugabe expected to win after opponent withdrew, citing campaign of violence
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HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) -- Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said government supporters threatened Zimbabweans into voting for Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party Friday.

Tsvangirai called the election "an exercise in mass intimidation" and warned that anyone recognizing the vote as legitimate "is denying the will of the Zimbabwean people.

"We are faced with 2 million percent inflation, massive starvation, people who are seriously underprivileged," he said. "Mugabe can celebrate that he has won, but it's a Pyrrhic victory as far as we are concerned."

But George Charamba, a spokesman for Mugabe, insisted that the vote was "free and fair."

Polls closed Friday evening. Tsvangirai had pulled out of the runoff with Mugabe, citing a violent campaign against his supporters. His deputy in the Movement for Democratic Change was also charged with treason and was detained by authorities several times.

But Tsvangirai's name still appeared on ballot papers. The MDC has called the election a "sham."

Later Friday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the U.N. Security Council unanimously "agreed that the conditions for free and fair elections did not exist and it was a matter of deep regret that elections went ahead in these circumstances."

Khalilzad said the council is expecting a report on regional efforts to deal with the crisis and will revisit the issue in the next few days.

Polling stations were quiet and peaceful in the capital, Harare, as well as in the rest of the country, said Utloile Silaigwana, Zimbabwe's deputy chief election commissioner. Video Watch Mugabe cast his vote »

Reports from across the country indicated low voter turnout at numerous polling stations.

There were reports from at least one Harare township of people being coerced into voting by Zanu-PF members.

A journalist said people in Harare's Mbare township were being told that they would be removed from their homes if they didn't vote.

Some polling stations across the capital were deserted, and polling officers were seated, the journalist said, but there was a long line outside a station in Harare South, which went to Zanu-PF in the first round of voting March 29. Video Watch Zimbabwe residents cast their votes »

But some voters said they feared reprisals and admitted that they had been intimidated into voting.

"You must know that a vote today is a protection; it keeps me out of trouble," one voter said. "Zanu-PF people were going to ask me why if I had not voted."

A man in his 20s said the government would have checked his fingers for the indelible red ink that proved he voted. "That made me go and vote," the man said.

The MDC instructed its supporters to spoil their ballots if they felt forced to vote, party spokesman Nelson Chamisa said, and at least one voter said he followed the advice.

"I spoiled the ballot paper, but I am now safe from the Zanu-PF militia," said Tafadzwa Nharira, a 29-year-old nurse. "Bad things of people being attacked has happened. I don't want that to happen to me." Photo See pictures of campaign trail violence »

Journalist Iden Wetherell said Zimbabweans in rural areas were very concerned about their personal safety and said a high voter turnout would be a product of "systematic coercion." The Zimbabwean government has barred CNN from reporting inside the country.

South Africa's e.tv reported that two journalists working for the network were arrested by Zimbabwean police Friday.

Friday's vote came three months after Mugabe finished second to Tsvangirai in the initial ballot. Tsvangirai did not receive an outright majority, forcing the runoff.

"What is happening today is not an election. It is an exercise in mass intimidation with people all over the country being forced to vote," Tsvangirai said.

"In many rural areas and some urban areas, people were forced to spend the night in the open outside the polling stations. Today, they have been ordered by militia to record the serial numbers of their ballot papers to identify anyone who might vote for the MDC.

"These same militia are threatening anyone that doesn't vote or who votes for the MDC with death. Every voter in Zimbabwe has their little finger dipped in red ink. The militia are warning that tomorrow, they will launch Operation Red Finger that will target anyone who has not voted." Video Watch Tsvangirai's plea to the world »

But Charamba denied that any such pressure was being used.

Asked about images from Zimbabwe showing what is reported to be violence against members of the opposition, he responded, "I thought we are long past the age where we could consider pictures as not lying. It's very, very easy for anyone to stage-manage a demonstration, and a violent one at that."

Charamba said the election "is free and fair to the extent that the oppositional candidate decided to participate in the same vote, albeit from a very odd angle."

Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight nations have expressed "grave concerns" about the situation, saying the Zimbabwean authorities had carried out systematic violence, obstruction and intimidation that made a free and fair election impossible. See a timeline of Zimbabwe's recent political turmoil »

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President Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday's runoff was a "sham." U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey echoed that Friday, calling the election "an absolutely vacant process."

Casey said it has "no standing" for the United States, the United Nations Security Council or the Group of Eight.

All About ZimbabweRobert MugabeMorgan Tsvangirai

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