- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — President Robert Mugabe’s party yesterday appeared set to lose control of parliament for the first time since the country’s independence, as international pressure mounted for the release of results from the presidential vote, which many believe Mr. Mugabe lost.

Mr. Mugabe has been accused of using delays, fraud and violence to hold onto power. Even if he retains the presidency, he will have to deal with a defiant parliament.

Early results showed his party losing control of parliament for the first time since 1980. His regime reacted by calling for recounts in 23 seats, but so far, the recounts have only confirmed the original tallies.

Yesterday, the Electoral Commission confirmed the results in 10 disputed parliamentary votes: six seats were taken by the opposition and four by Mr. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party.

Original results from the March 29 election showed that opposition groups won 110 seats to Mr. Mugabe’s 97. Three seats are vacant, awaiting by-elections after the deaths of candidates.

The Electoral Commission also said yesterday that the long-awaited presidential results would be released in the coming days, unless any of the tallies were challenged.

The opposition and an independent Zimbabwean observer group say the opposition also won the presidential race, basing their conclusions on their own surveys of results posted at individual polling stations.

On Friday, security forces raided the offices of the opposition and the independent observers, seizing materials related to the count.

Police confirmed yesterday that they arrested 215 people in a raid on the headquarters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party in the capital, Harare. They also said they searched the offices of the observer group, the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network, looking for evidence that the Western-funded organization bribed state election officials to rig polling results.

The opposition said those arrested were seeking refuge after being attacked by ruling-party loyalists in the countryside.

Human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama said among those detained were 24 children, “some still suckling.”

There had been reports of beatings of those being held in various police stations across the city, he said. They have not been charged with any offenses.

Human rights groups and independent religious groups say hundreds of opposition supporters have been abducted, tortured and assaulted in recent weeks in a violent crackdown on dissent.

Meanwhile, the United States’ top envoy on Africa was in the region rallying support for democracy in Zimbabwe. Jendayi Frazer yesterday left Angola, seen as an ally of Mr. Mugabe, for Zambia, whose president has been unusually critical of his Zimbabwean counterpart.

Miss Frazer called for regional leaders to press for an end to intimidation of Zimbabweans by security forces in the country and to work together and with the United States to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, a Mugabe loyalist, criticized Miss Frazer for her statements earlier in the week backing claims that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai defeated Mr. Mugabe in the presidential vote, Zimbabwean state media reported yesterday.

Mr. Chinamasa called Miss Frazer’s remarks “patently false, inflammatory, irresponsible and uncalled-for.” Though presidential results had not been completed, tallies posted outside polling stations “point to a runoff” between Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai, the state-owned Herald newspaper reported.

“More than anything else, Frazer’s comments expose Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC for what they are — an Anglo-American project designed to defeat and reverse the gains of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle … and return the nation to the dark days of white domination,” Mr. Chinamasa said.

The U.N. Security Council will get a briefing on the situation in Zimbabwe this week from the U.N. Secretariat, the current council president South Africa said Friday. South Africa had opposed including Zimbabwe on the agenda of recent special Security Council discussions it hosted on Africa.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has been mediating the Zimbabwe crisis, but he has been criticized as being too soft on Mr. Mugabe.

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