Mugabe gathers top lieutenants

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and top aides thrashed out his survival prospects on Friday as the opposition upped pressure for presidential poll results to be declared after its parliamentary victory.

Mugabe, who has overseen Zimbabwe’s demise from regional model to economic basket case, gathered his lieutenants in the Zimbabwe African National Union—Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) party’s politburo to work on their strategy.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) meanwhile lodged a court application demanding an end to the silence over the outcome of March 29’s presidential ballot.

Six days after voters went to the polls to choose between Mugabe and the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai, tensions were growing in Harare with two foreign journalists charged with breaching tough media laws.

However police denied claims by the MDC that it had carried out a raid on its offices at an upmarket hotel.

With Zimbabweans desperate for news on the fate of 84-year-old Mugabe, who has not made any public address since polling day, queues built up at newspaper stands for an update from the government mouthpiece Herald.

The paper has been playing up the prospects of Mugabe contesting a run-off against his old rival Tsvangirai later this month but Zanu-PF and diplomatic sources have questioned whether the president really wants to cling onto power after the MDC wrested control of Parliament.

One politburo member, speaking anonymously before the meeting, favoured a run-off while acknowledging the MDC had inflicted a major blow.

“We had under-estimated the [opposition] threat, but this time we will properly strategise for the run-off, and we will get it, without doubt.”

The MDC says its own calculations show Tsvangirai won just over the 50% of votes needed to avoid a run-off but is still prepared for a second round.

Journalists were told to leave the politburo meeting after Mugabe formally opened proceedings.

“Our meeting is now called to order,” he said.

Before taking the chair, Mugabe could be seen cracking jokes with some of the politburo members, telling one who lost his parliamentary seat: “You were struck by lightning.”

Final results of the parliamentary election were finally announced on Thursday with the MDC, including members of a splinter faction, winning a combined total of 109 seats against 97 for Zanu-PF in the 210-strong chamber.

‘Let’s know the results’

The government-appointed electoral commission should announce the results by the end of Friday in line with a deadline outlined in the electoral law.

However, with the commission having only just begun to announce the results to the largely ceremonial upper house, the senate, there was little expectation that the outcome of the presidential contest was about to be declared.

Ratcheting up pressure for the results to be announced, the MDC launched a legal bid to force the electoral commission to deliver its verdict immediately.

“It’s an urgent application filed in the high court,” MDC lawyer Andrew Makoni told reporters. “They are saying let’s know the results, from an official source.”

The Zimbabwean authorities refused nearly all applications by the foreign media to cover the polls, warning last week they would deal severely with any journalists who sneaked into the country.

And in a raid on a Harare guest house on Thursday, award-winning New York Times reporter Barry Bearak was detained along with a British journalist.

“We have so many other foreign journalists who have followed the laid-down procedures and are practising legally and here we have two people who thought they were a law unto themselves,” police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena said.

Bvudzijena also denied claims by MDC secretary general Tendai Biti that police had raided their offices at the Meikles hotel in Harare late Thursday.

MDC leaders, including Tsvangirai, have previously been beaten up by members of the security forces for trying to demonstrate about the dire state of the nation.

Inflation in Zimbabwe now stands at more than 100 000%, unemployment at over 80%, basic foodstuff are scarce and life expectancy has dropped to 36 years of age. - AFP

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