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Mugabe to contest Zimbabwe run-off, MDC cries foul

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe accepted that the opposition’s Morgan Tsvangirai won more votes in the presidential election and will contest a run-off in a political battle that has raised fears of bloodshed.

Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) cried foul after Zimbabwe’s electoral body announced on Friday that he had won 47.9 percent of the vote but faces a run-off after failing to gain enough votes for an outright majority.

The MDC described the announcement of the long-delayed result as “scandalous daylight robbery”. It says Tsvangirai won more than 50 percent of the vote in the March 29 election and Mugabe’s 28-year rule is over.

But Mugabe’s old foe has few options. If Tsvangirai refuses to take part in a second round, Mugabe would keep his hold on power according to electoral law. The MDC said it would decide at the weekend whether to contest a run-off.

An aide to Mugabe said the president accepted the result of the first round and would contest a run-off.

“The presidential result as announced do not reflect the genuine expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people given the many anomalies, malpractices, deflation of figures relating to ZANU-PF candidates,” chief election agent Emmerson Mnangagwa told reporters.

Western powers expressed doubt that a run-off could be fair.

“For any second round of the presidential election to be considered free and fair ... an end of violence as well as the presence of international observers is of crucial importance,” said a statement by current European Union president Slovenia.

Chief Elections Officer Lovemore Sekeramayi said Tsvangirai won 47.9 percent with Mugabe, who has ruled since independence from Britain, on 43.2 percent. Independent Simba Makoni, a ruling party defector, took 8.3 percent.

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“Since no candidate has received the majority of the total votes cast ... a second election shall be held on a date to be announced by the commission,” Sekeramayi said.

ECONOMIC MELTDOWN

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) will set the date of the run-off which should by law be held within 21 days of the result. But the ZEC has the power to extend this and political observers say a 40-day period is likely.

The opposition, critics and human rights groups have accused Mugabe of unleashing militias to scare Zimbabweans into backing him in the run-off. The government denies the allegation and says MDC members have carried out political violence.

Zimbabweans had hoped the election would herald the end of an economic meltdown that has brought food and fuel shortages and the world’s highest inflation rate of over 165,000 percent.

Instead, they are victims of a political struggle between a president critics call ruthless and Tsvangirai, who has spent his time outside the country, not among supporters at home risking crackdowns.

“I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest not to have a peaceful resolution. Investors hope they are seeing the beginning of the end but they know that might take weeks or months,” said Richard Segal, Africa strategist at Renaissance Capital.

MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti told a news conference in neighboring South Africa the results showed Tsvangirai should be declared president.

Zimbabweans line up to vote at a tented polling station in Chitungwiza, outside Harare, March 29, 2008. Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change said on Friday it would reject results of a presidential election that would force a run-off against veteran ruler Robert Mugabe. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

“According to the law, the person receiving the highest number of votes is the president of the republic of Zimbabwe with effect from the day of such declaration,” he said.

CREDIBILITY PROBLEMS

The United States and former colonial power Britain questioned the credibility of the official results.

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said: “That final tally, I think, has rather serious credibility problems given the inexplicably long delays and some of the post-election irregularities.”

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said: “While the process lacks transparency, it is clear that President Mugabe lost the presidential election. His campaign of violence and intimidation over the last month must stop immediately.”

Mugabe accuses Britain of plotting with the opposition to oust him.

Opposition spokesman Nelson Chamisa told Reuters: “This whole thing is a scandal, scandalous daylight robbery and everyone knows that. We won this election outright.”

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