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No majority for Mugabe party in Zimbabwe recount

HARARE (Reuters) - President Robert Mugabe’s party has failed to win control of Zimbabwe’s parliament in a partial recount of the March 29 election, results showed on Saturday, confirming the ruling party’s first defeat in 28 years.

Results of a parallel presidential poll have not been released, but the parliamentary defeat increases pressure on Mugabe ahead of an expected run-off against Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said it did not know when the presidential results would be published. It hoped to compile the recount statistics by Monday and then invite candidates to verify results before making them public.

Tsvangirai says he won outright and his party has rejected both the recount and any run-off as an attempt by Mugabe to steal the election.

For the first time since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980, the MDC wrested a parliamentary majority from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF in the election four weeks ago, triggering a recount in 23 out of 210 constituencies.

The commission had ordered the recount after ZANU-PF accused election officials of taking bribes to undercount votes for Mugabe and his ruling party and committing other electoral fraud. A number of election officials have been arrested.

The ZEC said there were no changes in the 18 out of 23 seats recounted so far. To win back a parliamentary majority, the ruling party needed to win nine more seats than it did in the first count, which is no longer possible.

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Delays in the recount and in announcing the presidential result have led to growing international criticism of Mugabe, 84, and stoked fears of vote-rigging and bloodshed in a country suffering an economic collapse.

“This recount was a charade and a flawed process. The attempt was to reverse the will of the people and we rejected the recount from the onset. But I can confirm that our earlier majority has been reconfirmed according to information we are receiving,” MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told Reuters.

CRACKDOWN

On Friday, Mugabe resorted to strong measures used in the past to keep the opposition in check, in what Human Rights Watch said was a stepped up “campaign of organized terror and torture against opposition activists and ordinary Zimbabweans”.

The government denies it is waging a campaign of violence.

Armed riot police raided the MDC’s headquarters and detained scores of people in the toughest measures against the opposition since the disputed elections.

Slideshow ( 12 images )

The MDC said those detained included supporters who had sought refuge with them after fleeing various parts of the country “where the regime has been unleashing brutal violence”.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said 215 people had been arrested in the raid, and no one had been charged yet.

“We have released the elderly and women with babies. There are about 30 of them. We are still doing profiles for the others and checking with their provinces on whether they have committed any crimes there,” he said.

Slideshow ( 12 images )

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said 62 people had come in for treatment over three days, some with broken limbs and one with an axe wound at the back of his head.

Former colonial power Britain, which Mugabe blames for Zimbabwe’s troubles, has called for an arms embargo and requested a U.N. Security Council meeting on the crisis.

Britain said it deplored the escalating violence in Zimbabwe and called for a United Nations mission to inspect human rights abuses. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Britain would step up diplomatic efforts ahead of the Security Council meeting.

South Africa’s U.N. envoy Dumisani Kumalo said someone from the U.N. secretariat would brief the 15-nation council, probably on Tuesday, on developments in Zimbabwe.

A Western diplomat on the council said any action in the form of a statement or resolution was unlikely. But the meeting would be useful in stepping up pressure on Mugabe.

Mugabe, a hero of the independence struggle, accuses the opposition of plotting with Western critics to end his three decades in power, which began with hopes that Zimbabwe would become an African model of democratic and economic success.

Today, Zimbabweans face severe shortages of basic goods and an inflation rate of 165,000 percent -- the world’s highest.

(Additional reporting by Chris Chinaka and Nelson Banya in Harare, Jeremy Lovell in London; Writing by Caroline Drees; Editing by Giles Elgood)

For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/

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