- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

HARARE, Zimbabwe Independent observers and rights groups blasted the Zimbabwean government yesterday, saying its presidential election was deeply flawed by violence and intimidation, confusing voter lists and the arrest of 1,400 observers and poll watchers during the balloting.
The criticism came as officials began counting the ballots yesterday from three days of voting in the country's most competitive election ever.
It pitted President Robert Mugabe the only leader the country has known in 22 years of independence against Morgan Tsvangirai, a former labor organizer.
[Early today, with nearly half of the votes counted in the controversial election, Mr. Mugabe took a commanding lead over Mr. Tsvangirai.
[Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede said shortly after 4 a.m. that results from 52 of the 120 constituencies showed Mr. Mugabe leading by 134,430 votes with 679,446 votes against 545,016 for Mr. Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
[The results came from across all the provinces of Zimbabwe, the central Midlands, Matabeleland, Bulawayo, Harare, Manicaland, Mashonaland, and Masvingo areas.
More than 1,400 people, most of them independent election observers and representatives from the opposition to watch over the polls, have been arrested since voting began Saturday, Amnesty International said.
The London-based rights group said reports pointed to a "pattern of mass arbitrary detention of hundreds of poll watchers belonging to the opposition MDC.
"We are deeply concerned for the safety of those arrested in the light of the well-established pattern of 'disappearances,' cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by Zimbabwean security forces," the group said in a statement.
"The election well has been poisoned to such an extent that there is unlikely to be any other result," than a Mugabe victory, said Brian Raftopolous, head of a collection of church and civic groups known as the Crisis in Zimbabwe Committee.
Committee members said they were discussing whether to organize a nationwide general strike to channel voter anger into a peaceful protest.
The opposition party complained yesterday that its observers were locked out of ballot-counting centers in the capital, Harare, and the country's second-largest city, Bulawayo. The opposition also said ruling party militants were trying to intimidate opposition observers at two other counting centers.


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