Mugabe to be sworn in, observers cry foul

President Robert Mugabe will be inaugurated within hours, a government source said on Sunday, after an election which African observers said was unfair and scarred by violence and intimidation.

The Pan-African Parliament observers, one of the few groups able to monitor the ballot, said the one-candidate vote on Friday was so flawed it should be rerun.

Results have not been released, but Mugabe said he was heading for victory in the poll, dismissed as a sham by much of the world.

The source said Mugabe’s swearing-in for a new five-year term was imminent: “The ceremony is going to be at 3pm [1pm GMT] and the invitations are being sent out.”

The inauguration would allow Mugabe to extend his 28 years of unbroken rule before attending an African Union (AU) summit in Egypt on Monday where he has vowed to confront his critics.

Mugabe was the only candidate after Movement for Democratic Change opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew because of government-backed violence which he said had killed nearly 90 of his supporters.

“These elections were not free and fair,” said Marwick Khumalo, head of the Pan-African Parliament observer team.

“Conditions should be put in place for the holding of free, fair and credible elections as soon as possible.”

The United States plans to toughen sanctions on Zimbabwe and push the United Nations Security Council to act but the AU appears reluctant to support this kind of action, favouring instead a Kenya-style power-sharing transition.

The Egypt summit may be split between critics of Mugabe, like Kenya, and opponents of any action against him led by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been widely criticised for taking a soft line with his neighbour.

Unprecedented criticism
Mugabe has brushed aside unprecedented criticism from inside and outside Africa.

“The returns show that we are winning convincingly ... We are heading for a sweeping victory,” the ex-guerrilla commander said in footage broadcast on state television on Sunday.

Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party lost an election on March 29 but Tsvangirai fell short of the majority needed for victory, forcing Friday’s run-off.

State media said on Sunday Mugabe had agreed to post-election talks with Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change as long as they were not influenced by foreign powers.

Tsvangirai said on Sunday his party remained committed to finding a negotiated settlement for the people of Zimbabwe.

“We are putting it into the hands of the AU, I hope that from then on, a process can be put in place that is acceptable to both parties,” he said.

Tsvangirai was quoted on the website of London’s Telegraph newspaper as saying it was possible Mugabe would be allowed to stay on as a ceremonial president with him as executive prime minister of a power-sharing government.

Mugabe (84) has presided over the economic collapse of once-prosperous Zimbabwe, now crippled by inflation estimated to have hit at least two million percent.

Khumalo said monitors had recorded violence and intimidation across the country, abductions and assaults which had led to some deaths. The observers said turnout was low although a “significant number” of people had voted for Tsvangirai.

“An unusually high percentage of spoilt ballots were recorded in the polling stations where our mission observed the counting process. Unpalatable messages were written on many of these spoilt ballots,” Khumalo said.

The West increased calls to end Mugabe’s rule after he went ahead with the vote despite calls to postpone it.

Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga was quoted as saying on Sunday that the AU should deploy troops.

“What is happening in Zimbabwe is a shame and an embarrassment to Africa in the eyes of the international community and should be denounced,” Odinga said.

Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu dismissed the election as a charade and called on the AU leaders to refuse to recognise Mugabe. “I think that would be a very, very powerful signal, he told the BBC, calling for UN military intervention.

US-based Human Rights Watch said Africa must impose sanctions on Zimbabwe, saying only strong AU action could avert further bloodshed.

African National Congress Jacob Zuma, whose outspoken stance on Zimbabwe’s crisis has contrasted with Mbeki’s softly-softly approach, said: “We should not keep quiet when things are going wrong in Zimbabwe, because we might be regarded as accomplices.” - Reuters

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