Zimbabwe deadlock deepens, regional concern grows
HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's election deadlock deepened on Wednesday, increasing fears of bloodshed, and Zambia called an emergency regional summit to discuss the crisis.
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said ruling ZANU-PF party tallies of the result of the March 29 presidential election showed a runoff would be necessary between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
"None of the candidates has been able to secure polling required by our law in order to avoid a runoff," he said.
Chinamasa added that the electoral commission had ordered five constituency recounts in a parallel election in which ZANU-PF lost control of parliament for the first time.
But the opposition Movement for Democratic Change rejected both a runoff and recounts, saying it would only accept an outright Tsvangirai victory as shown by its own tallies.
"We won these elections, Morgan Tsvangirai won this election without the need of a runoff and we will not accept any other result," said MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti.
Official results have still not been released from the presidential poll 11 days after the vote and the MDC says Mugabe is prolonging the delay while he plans a violent response to his biggest defeat since taking power in 1980.
As government and opposition traded barbs, dashing any hope of quick action to turn around a ruined economy, concern increased among Zimbabwe's neighbors.
In the first direct regional intervention, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa called a meeting of Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders for Saturday to formulate a concerted response. Mwanawasa is current chairman of the body.
Mwanawasa's call came after Jacob Zuma, leader of South Africa's ruling African National Congress, said the results must be released, signaling a new, more robust reaction to the crisis than President Thabo Mbeki who favors "quiet diplomacy".
Zuma, who rivals Mbeki as the most powerful man in South Africa and is the frontrunner to succeed him in 2009, told the Star newspaper: "I think the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission should have announced results by now."
Mwanawasa told journalists in Lusaka: "Because of the deepening problems in the country, I felt that this matter should be dealt with at presidential level".
SADC has been criticized in the past for failing to pressure Mugabe despite the collapse of his country's once prosperous economy, which has sent millions of refugees fleeing into South Africa and other neighbors.
Mwanawasa briefly broke ranks with other leaders last year when he called Zimbabwe a "sinking Titanic" before getting back in line under pressure from other SADC leaders.
The MDC has called on African states to prevent a slide into bloodshed. It urged the SADC summit to ask Mugabe to step down.
Chinamasa told reporters ZANU-PF was gearing up for a Mugabe-Tsvangirai runoff. He rejected MDC victory claims and said there was no need for international intervention.
"Nothing has transpired during and after the election to disturb international peace and security," he said, accusing the MDC of echoing calls by its "allies" in Washington and London.
Chinamasa said the electoral commission had rejected ZANU-PF appeals in seven other parliamentary constituencies but was still considering nine others. The combined opposition has a 12 seat majority in parliament with an independent holding one.
Mugabe's critics blame him for reducing the population to misery by mismanagement that has wrecked the Zimbabwean economy, now suffering the world's highest hyper-inflation, chronic shortages of food and fuel and a near worthless currency.
He says Western sanctions are to blame.
Authorities showed little sign of buckling under the pressure to release the outcome of the election.
A lawyer for Zimbabwe's electoral commission said it would be "dangerous" for the High Court to order the release of presidential results as demanded by the MDC.
The judge in the case said on Wednesday the case was urgent and he would "exert himself" to make a ruling next Monday.
(Additional reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe, Stella Mapenzauswa, Nelson Banya, Muchena Zigomo, Shapi Shacinda in Lusaka; writing by Barry Moody; editing by Michael Georgy and Matthew Tostevin)
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