- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

HARARE, Zimbabwe The high court ordered the government yesterday to extend voting by a day in Zimbabwe's bitterly contested presidential election, as long lines snaked from polling booths even after the voting deadline had passed.
About an hour after the ruling, however, 60 riot police charged into a polling station in the capital, Harare, chasing away 2,500 to 3,000 people waiting to cast their ballot, said an opposition observer too frightened to give his name.
Police locked the Glen Norah polling station and then moved into the street, threatening anyone who approached to vote.
Opposition officials said they had won a voting extension from Judge Ben Hlatshwayo for the entire country. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told opposition lawyers last night he would file an urgent appeal with the Supreme Court.
The election pits former union leader Morgan Tsvangirai against President Robert Mugabe, who faces the most serious challenge yet to his 22-year rule.
The campaign and voting have been plagued by violence and charges that ruling-party militants intimidated the opposition and tried to rig the vote. The government denies the charges and says the voting has been fair.
It was not clear when elections results would start to emerge.
The opposition has accused Mr. Mugabe's party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), of putting too few polling stations in Harare, where opposition support is strong, and more elsewhere in the country, where the ruling party holds sway. Voting delays also have been caused by a high voter turnout and a disorganized voting system.
Harare has more than 14 percent of the nation's registered voters, yet it was assigned fewer than 3 percent of the polling booths far fewer than in the last election.
The opposition had asked for voting, which was scheduled for Saturday and yesterday, to be extended by two days.
"The polling days should be extended, especially in Harare. If the authorities refuse to extend, it would be a tragedy for this country," said Mr. Tsvangirai, 50, Mr. Mugabe's most competitive challenger since the country's independence in 1980.
Learnmore Jongwe, spokesman for Mr. Tsvangirai's party, Movement for Democratic Change, welcomed the judge's decision.
"We understand that [Mr. Mugabes party] is not considering extending, and clearly this is how the elections are being rigged. This is one way of rigging elections, as you are denying the people their vote," Mr. Jongwe said.
Minutes before the court ruling, Tobaiwa Mudede, registrar general in the election directorate, said there would not be an extension, adding that by noon yesterday 2.5 million of Zimbabwe's 5.6 million registered voters had already cast ballots.
"It is not our wish or intention to have an extension," Mr. Mudede said. "The whole country has voted, but about 10 polling stations in Harare are still going on. … I think things went very well."
Voters throughout the capital vowed not to leave until they had cast ballots. A half-dozen riot police with bayonets on their rifles in one Harare township patrolled several thousand voters who waited in a slow-moving line after the 7 p.m. voting deadline lapsed.

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