- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe — A nationwide strike called by Zimbabwe’s opposition to protest the withholding of election results appeared to falter yesterday as police and soldiers fanned out across the country.

Many in the capital said they were not aware of the protest. Most of the news media are controlled by the state.

Zimbabwe is still waiting for presidential election results 18 days after a vote that longtime ruler Robert Mugabe apparently lost. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), whose efforts to force the release of results have failed, called on Zimbabweans to stay home yesterday in a low-key show of solidarity.

Police and soldiers spread out across the capital, Harare, in the early morning; the government said they were sent to prevent violence and looting.

There had been little publicity about the strike before yesterday, and traffic moved through the capital as usual. Banks and stores were open and many of those downtown said they hadn’t known a strike was called.

Still, commuters reported fewer privately run minibuses on the road, suggesting that some transport workers were staying away. Some downtown restaurants said they were missing staff.

Past strike calls have been met with resistance by impoverished workers, who cannot afford to lose even one day’s wages in a country with surging inflation and 80 percent unemployment.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says he won the March 29 election outright and has accused Mr. Mugabe of holding back the results to try to maintain his 28-year grip in power. Independent tallies show Mr. Tsvangirai won, but did not receive enough votes to prevent a runoff.

George Sibotshiwe, a spokesman for Mr. Tsvangirai, said yesterday the opposition would consider participating in a runoff only if a tally verified by both parties and regional monitors shows no candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote, and if the international community administers the election.

Government spokesman Bright Matonga said such a move would be unconstitutional and an affront to Zimbabweans.

“We don’t need outsiders. We can do it ourselves,” he said.

On Monday, the country’s High Court rejected the opposition’s appeal for immediate release of the presidential results.

The High Court said it will rule today on whether Monday’s decision also invalidates an opposition petition to block planned recounts of ballots of 23 parliamentary races, MDC attorney Selby Hwacah said.

All but one of those races were won by the MDC. The opposition, which won a slim majority in the 210-member legislature for the first time in Zimbabwe’s history, fears recounts will be used to rig the vote and overturn its victory.


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