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Saturday, March 29, 2008
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Charges of fraud in Zimbabwe vote
Saturday, Mar 29, 2008 11:3PM UTC
By Nelson Banya
HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's opposition accused President Robert Mugabe of rigging the country's election to stay in power despite economic disaster and African observers also said they had detected fraud.
Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, faced his strongest challenge in Saturday's election, with veteran opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and ruling ZANU-PF party defector Simba Makoni exploiting widespread misery caused by the wrecked economy.
As polls closed, Tsvangirai's MDC party said their voters and officials had been turned away from polling stations and erasable voting ink was used to enable fraud by government supporters.
Combined with inflated voter rolls and the printing of 3 million surplus ballot papers, this "ensures that there will be multiple voting," said MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti.
Observers from the Pan-African parliament said in a letter to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission that they had found more than 8,000 non-existent people registered on a piece of empty land in a Harare constituency.
Biti said the MDC had also found "ghost voters" in Harare.
Many Zimbabweans were desperate for change to end the country's economic misery.
The once-prosperous nation is suffering the world's highest inflation rate at more than 100,000 percent, chronic shortages of food and fuel and a rampant HIV/AIDS epidemic that has contributed to a steep decline in life expectancy.
Mugabe blames the collapse on Western sanctions.
"I am voting for change. I am praying for a free and fair election. It is the only way this country can move forward," said Richard Mutedzi, 25, a mechanic who voted in Chitungwiza, 30 km (20 miles) south of Harare.
Mother of three Gertrude Muzanenhamo, 36, voted early in the poor township of Warren Park, telling reporters: "People are dying in hospitals and funeral expenses are very high. How do you expect us to survive? Shop shelves are empty."
Final results are not expected for several days from the presidential, parliamentary and local polls.
The local election observer group ZESN said turnout looked low and some voters were turned away in opposition strongholds.
A local journalist who asked not to be named said thousands of voters had turned out in Mugabe's southern stronghold of Masvingo province. He said village heads appeared to have instructed them to vote for the president.
Most international observers were banned and a team from the regional grouping SADC did not comment on Saturday. Critics say SADC, which has tried to mediate an end to Zimbabwe's crisis, is too soft on Mugabe.
Mugabe displayed his usual confidence when he voted in Harare. "We will succeed. We will conquer," he said.
"Why should I cheat? The people are there supporting us. The moment the people stop supporting you, then that's the moment you should quit politics," Mugabe told reporters.
Despite the fraud allegations, Tsvangirai said he would win. "We are absolutely confident that the outcome will be in the favor of the people," he said as he voted in Harare.
Sagodolu Sikhosana, a villager in the opposition stronghold of Matabeleland said after voting: "Things have been too hard for too long. I think now there needs to be a change and they need to take us more seriously."
The powerful security forces have backed Mugabe, stoking accusations that he will use his incumbent power to rig victory.
If no candidate wins more than 51 percent of the vote the election will go into a second round in three weeks, when the two opposition parties would likely unite.
Mugabe said a second round was unlikely.
"We are not used to boxing matches where we go from round one to round two. We just knock each other out," he said.
(Additional reporting by Cris Chinaka, Stella Mapenzauswa, MacDonald Dzirutwe and Muchena Zigomo)
(Writing by Barry Moody; Editing by Giles Elgood)
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Clinton rejects calls to quit Democratic race
Sen. Hillary Clinton on Saturday rejected calls by supporters of rival candidate Barack Obama to quit the Democratic presidential race, and Obama said Clinton should remain in race "as long as she wants."
"The more people get a chance to vote, the better it is for our democracy," the New York senator and former first lady told supporters at a rally in Indiana, which holds a May 6 primary.
"There are some folks saying we ought to stop these elections," she said.
"I didn't think we believed that in America. I thought we of all people knew how important it was to give everyone a chance to have their voices heard and their votes counted."
Clinton has won primaries in the biggest states so far, but Obama has won more total contests and leads her in the race for delegates to the party's August convention in Denver -- where the Democratic nominee will be formally ratified.
Two of Obama's leading supporters, Sens. Christopher Dodd and Patrick Leahy, said Friday that Clinton should rethink her chances of overcoming that deficit and consider folding her campaign.
Leahy, of Vermont, said Clinton "has every right, but not a very good reason, to remain a candidate for as long as she wants to."
Speaking in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Obama said he did not discuss Leahy's call for Clinton to drop out with the Vermont senator, who serves as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"My attitude is that Sen. Clinton can run as long as she wants," the Illinois senator said.
"She is a fierce and formidable competitor, and she obviously believes that she would make the best nominee and the best president. I think that she should be able to compete, and her supporters should be able to support her for as long as they are willing or able."
Pennsylvania is the scene of the next Democratic primary, on April 22, and is the largest state that hasn't weighed in on the party's presidential race.
Obama called fears that the Democratic Party would be damaged by a long campaign "somewhat overstated." But he added that both he and Clinton should avoid campaign attacks "that could be used as ammunition for the Republicans" in November.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Thursday suggests that the bickering between Clinton and Obama could affect Democratic turnout in November.
One in six Clinton supporters said they would not be likely to vote in November if Obama gets the nomination; an equal number of Obama's supporters said the same about Clinton.
Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said Friday that he would like the fight wrapped up before the Denver convention, and said party leaders have had "extensive discussions" with the Clinton and Obama campaigns about cooling down their rhetoric.
"I don't think the party is going to implode," he said. But he added that personal attacks "demoralize the base" and that campaigns should focus on issues like the economy and Iraq.
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