Tsvangirai says Mugabe preparing violence

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s opposition accused President Robert Mugabe on Saturday of deploying loyal forces and liberation war veterans for a “war on the people” to reverse the result of last weekend’s election.

“Militants are being rehabilitated,” Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai told a press conference, adding that the central bank was printing money “for the finance of violence” ahead of a presidential runoff vote.

The MDC says it won the March 29 presidential election, though no official results have been released.

Official results do show the MDC won a parallel vote in which Mugabe’s ZANU-PF lost control of parliament for the first time -- the biggest defeat of the veteran leader’s 28-year rule.

ZANU-PF and independent projections show Tsvangirai being forced into a presidential runoff after failing to win an absolute majority.

“The circumstances have changed, ZANU-PF has threatened, has deployed militias, has deployed war veterans,” Tsvangirai said, adding Mugabe was “preparing a war on the people”.

“It is unfair ... for President Mugabe to even hint at a runoff. Violence will be the new weapon to reverse the people’s will. We won this election without the need for a runoff,” said Tsvangirai, who called Mugabe a lame duck president and demanded that he concede.

Later on Saturday state-owned radio reported that a group of pro-Mugabe war veterans had vowed to occupy all white-owned farms in Masvingo Province amid reports white farmers were returning to land seized by the government.

The war veterans have in the past been used to intimidate government opponents. Beginning in 2000 they led a wave of violent occupations of white farms as part of a government policy to redistribute land to blacks.

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Zimbabwe’s electoral commission on Saturday announced the final results of the senate election, showing ZANU-PF had won 30 seats, the same as MDC and a breakaway opposition faction combined.

But control of the senate, which can block lower house legislation, will depend on who wins the presidential election. The head of state appoints 15 members and local chiefs, who are normally loyal to him, appoint the remaining 18.

The senate results had to precede the anxiously awaited presidential outcome. But despite growing impatience over the delay, the commission said it would only release the results “when they are ready”.

Under electoral law a presidential runoff must be held three weeks after results are released. So the longer the results take, the more time ZANU-PF has to organize.

Earlier the Zimbabwe High Court postponed until Sunday a legal bid by the opposition to force the release of the presidential results.

Armed police initially prevented MDC lawyers from entering the High Court before allowing them in.

Zimbabwe has the world’s highest rate of inflation at more than 100,000 percent, chronic food and fuel shortages and 80 percent unemployment.

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A quarter of the population has fled abroad.

The opposition and Western governments blame Mugabe for Zimbabwe’s economic collapse. He blames Western sanctions.

The last thing people needed was uncertainty in an election they hoped would bring relief from daily hardships.

“Personally I’m very disappointed because they’re not giving us the results. We have been hearing all kinds of stories about the police and soldiers being sent to some areas and it’s worrying,” said Chamunorwa Matanga, a black market foreign currency dealer.

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The veteran president had looked wounded earlier in the week after the parliamentary defeat. But a meeting of the party’s politburo on Friday planned a fight-back and resolved he would contest a runoff against Tsvangirai.

Party officials alleged widespread MDC bribery of electoral officials and said they would legally challenge the results in 16 constituencies, enough to overturn the parliamentary result if successful.

Analysts believe Mugabe will use his control of state apparatus, including the security forces and pro-government militias, to intimidate MDC supporters before a runoff.

Former colonial ruler Britain and the United States, both of whom have applied sanctions on Mugabe and his top officials, have criticized the election delay and suggested it could be the precursor to a rigged result.

Thabo Mbeki, president of regional power South Africa, told the international community to wait for the full election results and said it was not time for action.

“I think the situation for now is manageable,” Mbeki told reporters as he arrived at a conference of “progressive governance” leaders near London.

Mbeki led unsuccessful regional mediation efforts last year and South Africa is flooded with Zimbabwean economic refugees.

(Additional reporting by Stella Mapenzauswa, Cris Chinaka, Muchena Zigomo, MacDonald Dzirutwe; Writing by Barry Moody, editing by Mary Gabriel)

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