- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A South African observer denounced the partial recount of contested parliamentary seats from last month’s election as “fatally flawed” today as state media reported that the process might drag on all week and rights groups reported more violence in troubled Zimbabwe.

Soldiers were running riot in Harare’s densely packed suburbs, beating people at random, the rights group Crisis in Zimbabwe coalition said. One group of soldiers descended on a shopping center, assaulting shoppers, and another attacked Mathew Takaona, president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, activists said.

More than three weeks after the March 29 elections, the results of Zimbabwe’s presidential vote have not been released — and the outcome of the parliamentary ballot remains in limbo, with state-run media reporting that a pivotal partial recount could take all week.

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, maintains he won the presidential race outright, but independent observers believe he fell just short of the majority.

Tsvangirai appealed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for help today in at a meeting in Accra, Ghana, where Ban is attending a trade conference.

Tsvangirai “complained about the deadlock and deterioration of the humanitarian and political situation in Zimbabwe,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said by telephone from New York.

Ban “reiterated his deep concern that the situation has still not been resolved as well as his concern about the repeated violence,” Haq said, in addition to appealing again for the quick release of the electoral results.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called on fellow African leaders to intervene, accusing President Robert Mugabe of unleashing a campaign of violence in a bid to steal the country’s elections with a “charade of democracy.”

“It is important that African leaders do more to engage directly in this crisis to help resolve it,” Miliband said in a statement issued today by his office in London. “Ordinary Africans do not condone the way in which President Mugabe is clinging to power and beating his own people to death to ensure he retains it.”

The MDC says 10 supporters have been killed, 400 arrested and 500 injured in postelection violence. It is impossible to verify the figures because of reporting restrictions.

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga dismissed claims that the government is arming vigilante groups.

“There is nothing of the sort. These are imaginary vigilantes,” he told South African radio.

For the first time in Mugabe’s 28-year rule, the opposition defeated Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party in the first count of last month’s parliamentary vote.

But electoral officials began recounting ballots Saturday for 23 legislative seats, most won by opposition candidates, and the ZANU-PF party needs just nine seats to reclaim a majority.

The state-run Herald newspaper reported today that officials need longer than the three days originally planned, and could take all week.

Observer Dianne Kohler-Barnard, a lawmaker with South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance, called the entire recounting process “futile.”

“It is clear that the process of recounting the contested wards from the recent elections is fatally flawed,” she said. “Of particular concern was the evidence of ballot box tampering that I witnessed personally, which points to a concerted effort to rig the election results in order to bring about a Mugabe ‘victory.”’

Associated Press writers Clare Nullis in Cape Town, South Africa, and Todd Pitman in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.

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