Mugabe casts ballot in old suburb

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe voted at a Harare polling station on Friday in an election in which he is the sole candidate after the opposition leader pulled out.

“I feel very fit and very optimistic,” a beaming Mugabe told reporters afterward before getting in his Mercedes limousine to leave with his wife, Grace (44). He made no other comment.

His three children were also at the polling station at a primary school in the Highfields section of the capital—where Mugabe routinely votes.

He used to live in the working-class neighbourhood, which played a key role in the country’s liberation movement during the fight against white rule.

The 84-year-old leader shook hands with several officials before going inside. He did not greet any of the about 30 voters in line.

Once inside, he could be seen joking with poll officials.

About 50 security personnel, including military, police and bodyguards, arrived as part of Mugabe’s convoy.
On the road to the school, armed soldiers had taken up positions in strategic areas.

Ex-Sierra Leone president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, the head of a mission of about 50 African Union observers, was at the polling station as well, though he had arrived separately from Mugabe.

“I’m highly impressed by the orderly manner in which the election has been organised,” he said, adding he planned to meet with Mugabe on Saturday about the vote.

Asked about reports of political violence, he said, “I have not seen evidence of that.” He also said he could not comment on whether violence would affect the poll because he had “not seen details”.

Mugabe is virtually assured victory in the presidential run-off after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the race, saying violence had made a fair vote impossible.

The opposition claimed voters were being forced out to the polls to cast ballots for Mugabe.

‘We know what is in your heart’
Tsvangirai branded the poll as a “shameful humiliation” and said a result giving victory to Mugabe would be meaningless.

“Today is not an election. Today is a shameful humiliation, another tragic day in our nation’s history,” said Tsvangirai.

“Today’s results will be meaningless because they do not reflect the will of the people of Zimbabwe. Today’s results reflect only the fear of the people of Zimbabwe.

“My fellow Zimbabweans, we know what is in your heart. We know you want peaceful democratic change. Don’t risk your life,” he wrote.

“If possible, we ask you not to vote today. But if you must vote for Mr Mugabe because of threats to your life, then do so.”

G8 lambasts Zimbabwe
In Kyoto, Japan, G8 nations lambasted Zimbabwe on Friday, and the United States said the United Nations Security Council may consider fresh sanctions on the country next week.

“We deplore the actions of the Zimbabwean authorities—systematic violence, obstruction and intimidation—which have made a free and fair presidential run-off election impossible,” the Group of Eight rich countries’ foreign ministers said in a statement after a two-day meeting.

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking to reporters after the G8 meeting, branded Friday’s vote “a sham”.

“There was a strong sentiment in that room today that what is going on in Zimbabwe is simply unacceptable in the 21st Century and it can’t be ignored by the international community,” she said.

She said the the UN Security Council would discuss next week tightening the West’s array of sanctions on Zimbabwe, whose economy is already in a state of collapse.

The G8 said Zimbabwe’s first round of voting, in March, when Tsvangirai beat Mugabe but did not secure an outright majority, must be respected, and it would not accept the legitimacy of a government that did not reflect the will of the people.

Officials said the ministers’ decision to release a separate statement on Zimbabwe underlined their determination to send a strong message to Harare.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters that he wanted discussions within the European Union on withdrawing national ambassadors from Zimbabwe. - Reuters, AFP

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