Saturday, April 26, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) Zimbabwe’s electoral commission said Saturday that a recount of votes for 10 parliamentary seats confirmed the original results, including opposition victories, making it unlikely that the ruling party can wrest control of parliament.

The recounts confirmed that six seats were taken by the opposition and four by President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party in the March 29 election.

The remaining 13 seats subject to recounts are mostly held by the opposition; Mugabe’s party would need a virtual clean sweep to win back majority control of the 210-seat parliament.

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

Differences between the original count and recounts were minor, with only a single vote difference recorded in one of the 10 districts. Regional election observers said they believed that pattern was likely to continue, without major reversals.

Results from the presidential election still have not been released. That delay and the call for recounts have widely been seen as stalling tactics, as Mugabe uses a violent crackdown on dissent to strengthen his grip on power.

Police confirmed Saturday that they arrested 215 people in a raid on Tsvangirai’s headquarters in Harare the day before.

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

Women, some pregnant or with babies strapped to their backs, were among those taken away by police. Girls who had been threatened with rape and men with broken bones were also herded into a bus and pickup truck during the raid, the opposition said. Others had come for help and news of relatives missing in a wave of violence against opposition supporters blamed on militants of Mugabe’s party.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said those arrested were suspected of involvement in political violence.

Human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama said among those detained were 24 children, “some still suckling,” as well as six people over the age of 60.

He said lawyers had been assured by police that the babies would be released but this had not happened by Saturday morning. None of those arrested have been charged, he said.

“They are internally displaced people. They were seeking refuge. Their houses had been destroyed or they were running away or wanted help to get to a hospital,” he said.

The raids sent a powerful message that Zimbabwe’s longtime leader intends to hold on to power despite a growing global clamor for him to step aside.

Hundreds of opposition supporters have been abducted, tortured and assaulted in recent weeks in what independent religious and human rights groups call a violent crackdown on dissent.

Human Rights Watch said that a campaign against those perceived to have “voted wrongly” has escalated this week.

Carolyn Norris, the New York-based group’s deputy director for Africa, said soldiers have joined in torturing and beating people in recent days. Previously, ruling party officials, militiamen and war veterans carried out the violence at informal torture centers in the countryside, the rights group said.

Amid continuing political uncertainty, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, a Mugabe loyalist, criticized a top U.S. envoy for backing claims that the opposition candidate beat Mugabe in the presidential vote, the state media reported Saturday.

On Thursday, Jendayi Frazer, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, declared Morgan Tsvangirai the victor and called on Mugabe to step down.

Chinamasa called Frazer’s remarks “patently false, inflammatory, irresponsible and uncalled-for.”

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