Mugabe likely to be sworn in on Sunday

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe is expected to be sworn in on Sunday after a landslide victory in a one-candidate election boycotted by the opposition, government sources said on Saturday.

The sources told Reuters official tallies from two-thirds of polling stations showed Mugabe (84) defeating opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai by a huge margin in a widely condemned poll.

Tsvangirai’s name remained on ballot papers after electoral authorities refused to accept his decision to withdraw a week ago on the grounds of violence against his supporters. He has taken refuge in the Dutch embassy since then.

Election authorities said on Saturday evening that counting was complete and they hoped to finish verification and collation shortly, clearing the way to announce the result.

“The tallies are indicating that despite the wishes of our detractors and the propaganda of our enemies, the voter turnout was very big and that we are going to see a landslide victory,” said one of the government sources, who declined to be identified.

“If the official results are released today [Saturday] as we are all hoping, the indications are the inauguration will be tomorrow,” he added.

A Sunday inauguration would be timed to enable Mugabe to attend an African Union summit in Egypt on Monday after extending his 28-year rule of Zimbabwe, a once-prosperous country crippled by poverty and hyper-inflation.

United States President George Bush dismissed the vote as a sham and said Washington would enforce new sanctions on what he called an illegitimate government.

He said he would call on the United Nations to impose an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and a travel ban on its officials.

Foreign ministers preparing for the AU summit indicated it would not support sanctions. African countries are believed to have more sway with Mugabe than Western powers.

Witnesses and monitors reported a low turnout in many areas in Friday’s election, which was widely condemned after Tsvangirai withdrew saying almost 90 of his supporters had been killed in systematic violence by Mugabe’s supporters.

They said voters in some places had been forced to vote for the president.
Tsvangirai said millions of people stayed away from polling stations despite systematic intimidation.

The opposition leader and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won presidential and parliamentary elections on March 29 but fell short of the majority needed for outright victory.

In contrast to the expected declaration of Friday’s result within 24 hours, the outcome of the March 29 presidential poll took five weeks to emerge. Human rights lawyers say this made Friday’s run-off unconstitutional.

Deep regret
The UN Security Council unanimously expressed deep regret over the election and said a free and fair vote was impossible.

Many Western leaders urged the AU to take action, saying Zimbabwe’s turmoil threatened regional security. The MDC said it would lobby the summit leaders.

“The summit has to take a firm position on the transition we seek. It’s now a matter of peace and security. We hope the matter gets the urgent attention it deserves. We should not wait for rivers of blood and the complete breakdown of order,” MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said.

Mugabe said before the vote he would confront his African critics at the meeting.

Ministers attending a preparatory summit meeting shied away from proposals for stronger international sanctions against Mugabe, saying they were unlikely to work and a power-sharing deal should be encouraged.

AU mediation helped form a power-sharing government in Kenya earlier this year, ending a crisis in which 1 500 died.

“I think we need to engage Zimbabwe. The route of sanctions may not be the helpful one,” Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula told reporters at the summit venue, Sharm el Sheikh.

Tsvangirai said earlier this week that he would not negotiate with Mugabe if he went ahead with the election.

The MDC’s Chamisa criticised South African President Thabo Mbeki, whose quiet diplomacy in Zimbabwe as the designated regional mediator has failed to end the crisis. He is widely accused of being too soft on Mugabe.

“President Mbeki has become part of the problem. ... I don’t know why he is trying to resurrect a regime that was rejected by the people,” Chamisa said.

Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of former colonial power Britain, said Zimbabwe had reached a new low. “We will work with international partners to find a way to close this sickening chapter that has cost so many lives,” he said.

Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, has presided over Zimbabwe’s slide into economic chaos with inflation estimated to have reached at least two million percent.

He blames Western sanctions for economic collapse and the opposition for political violence.

Reporters arrested
Two reporters have been arrested in Zimbabwe after being accused of working without accreditation, police said on Saturday.

“The two—a reporter and a camera person—were picked up yesterday [Friday] at Beitbridge border post where they were carrying out interviews,” said police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena.

Reporters Mahlaoli Tumaole (28) and Elelwani Rwamphumedzi (31), are being held in Beitbridge and are expected to appear in court on Monday, Bvudzijena said.

“They were arrested for practising journalism without accreditation,” he said.

Zimbabwean authorities banned from covering the presidential polls on grounds it had previously breached media and security laws in a report on diamond smuggling last year.

Journalists operating in Zimbabwe without accreditation face a jail term of up to two years.

Several foreign journalists were arrested in the aftermath of the first round of the presidential election on March 29 but were later released. - Reuters, AFP

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