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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 12:06 GMT
Zimbabwe votes: Matabeleland
Police here have dispersed opposition supporters who had taken to the streets to protest against what they called a rigged election.
Supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change are urging the international community to reject the results.
The city is peaceful, as many MDC members are frightened of what the government might do if they took to the streets.
Police have maintained security checks along all roads linking Bulawayo with the outside world. They say they are searching for dangerous weapons.
The situation is calm in Bulawayo, an opposition stronghold, but many people are depressed and openly wondering how the MDC managed to lose.
People are saying they won't accept the results but there are no protests on the streets, with young opposition supporters telling me they will wait for instructions from their leaders.
The official results announced for Matabeleland give Mugabe 156,160 votes and Tsvangirai 276,169, but many are expressing doubts about the high number of votes given to Mugabe in rural parts of Matabeleland.
I have been told that in the rural Mudzi constituency, Mugabe polled 33,000 votes - which is more than the number of voters registered there.
The army remains deployed around the MDC office in Bulawayo. Two hours ago I witnessed more than 50 heavily armed soldiers get out of a truck and surround the offices.
Soldiers have also arrested the husband of the MDC's Bulawayo polling agent, Trudy Ndebele, after being unable to find her.
13 March 0730 GMT
Soldiers have surrounded the opposition Movement for Democratic Change headquarters in Bulawayo.
They moved into town this morning while some have remained in the townships where they were expecting trouble.
Some MDC leaders have gone into hiding in Matabeleland. They include David Coltart, the MDC shadow justice minister and a few members of parliament.
People remain angry at the arrest of MDC Secretary General Welshman Ncube.
The counting of votes has started this morning in all Bulawayo constituencies and results should be announced as they arrive in Harare.
In the townships it is still calm but many residents I spoke to last night urged opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai not to accept the results if they are in favour of the incumbent, Robert Mugabe.
The residents of Bulawayo, who are predominantly Ndebele speaking, voted overwhelmingly for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in the 2000 parliamentary elections.
Among the people who say they will not accept the results if they favour President Mugabe are former senior commanders of Joshua Nkomo's Zipra army during the liberation war.
Two ex-Zipra commanders told BBC News Online last night that Zimbabweans should not accept rigged results.
"We resolved that if Mugabe rigs the election, we would rather take to the streets than to allow him to further ruin our country," said one of the former commanders, Nick Dube.
He is the director of the Zimbabwe Liberators Peace Forum, an organisation which brings together former Zipra guerrillas.
"It is high time Zimbabweans stood up to Mugabe and told him the game was over and should move out," said a resident of Cowdray Park township, which is in the Bulawayo North constituency of Welshman Ncube, the secretary general of the MDC.
Mr Ncube was arrested on Monday by police at a roadblock along the Bulawayo-Plumtree road while on his way to Botswana.
Rumours that soldiers have been deployed in the Bulawayo townships proved false although there was troop movement along the airport road on Sunday.
Bulawayo is generally calm today, as people wait for the counting of the presidential votes to begin on Tuesday after voting ends in Harare.
However, there is some concern about the arrest of MDC secretary general, Welshman Ncube in Plumtree, Matabeleland South.
People are wondering why he was picked up at this extremely sensitive time.
Outside the city, tension is higher.
I visited one polling station in Dundubala 60 km north of Bulawayo, where an MDC polling agent was beaten up by Zanu-PF supporters on Sunday.
Elias Ncube was forced to flee his post bare-footed but managed to hitch-hike to Bulawayo last night.
After being treated for bruising all over his body, he returned to Dundubala this morning, reassured by the presence of police.
Another MDC agent did manage to remain with the precious ballot boxes throughout the night.
There is a Zanu-PF base just outside, despite regulations that there should be no campaigning within 100 metres of polling stations.
Just after we entered the polling station, eight ruling party militants blocked the door with logs.
Luckily, the police chased them away and we were able to get out unmolested.
One kilometre down the road, we saw another Zanu-PF base, where about 50 young men were conducting military drills.
When we left Dundubala at about 1300 local time (1100 GMT), the ballot boxes were still at the polling station, waiting to be transported to the provincial counting centre in Bulawayo.
The MDC has lodged an official complaint with the authorities, claiming that 2 ballot boxes from a polling station in Nyamandlovu have disappeared.
Boxes from other constituencies have been arriving in Bulawayo throughout the day.
Voting has entered its second day in Zimbabwe but surprisingly most polling stations were deserted in the second largest city of Bulawayo.
It now looks like voters decided to turn out in large numbers on the first day.
Most polling stations I visited in Bulawayo had very few people. Some had about five people in the queue.
It is no longer clear whether the government or the electoral supervisory commission will consider extending polling by one day since polling stations in Bulawayo and other areas were not busy.
A polling officer in Bulawayo told me that many people had voted on Saturday.
"We had to close polling stations late to accommodate all those who were in the queues," he said.
However hundreds of people could not vote as they were turned away at polling stations. Most of them were whites who were classified as prohibited voters.
In the rural areas such as Nyamandlovu north-west of Bulawayo, there were allegations of ballot boxes disappearing and voting commencing without all the polling agents from different parties being represented.
A member of the MDC in Nyamandlovu said on Saturday that voting began at Muntu polling station without the MDC polling agent.
I was also told that a ballot box which had been sealed was opened this morning - a violation of the electoral laws which state clearly that once a ballot box has been sealed, it cannot be re-opened.
One observer team left for Seafield polling station about 78 km north of Bulawayo where it was alleged war veterans were accompanying villagers to polling stations threatening them with death if they voted for the opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai.
On Friday the same war veterans tried to erect a roadblock in the same area but were dispersed by the police who told them that what they were doing was against the law.
"We expect trouble here after the results are announced," said one white farmer in Nyamandlovu after speaking to Commonwealth observers.
Long queues formed in Bulawayo from as early as 0400 local time (0200 GMT) in both the townships and the low density, former white areas of the city.
However there were complaints that Zimbabweans of foreign origin had not been allowed to vote.
At three polling stations I visited, more than 200 people - both white and black - of foreign origin had been turned away because their names appeared on a list of "prohibited voters".
Among them was the former Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, Sir Garfield Todd, who was told he could not vote because he had not renounced his British citizenship.
The opposition MDC complained that the number of polling stations had been reduced in order to frustrate urban voters who generally support their candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai.
In the Bulawayo South constituency, there were more than 40 polling stations in the 2000 parliamentary elections.
This time there are just 15 - and their locations were only made public this morning.
Voters just turned up at their local schools and community centres, hoping that they would be able to cast their votes there.
The MDC also said yesterday that because the list of polling stations had not yet been released, they would not be able to send agents to all stations in rural Matabeleland.
Some people in the queues were disappointed because the process was very slow but they said they were not giving up.
They said they would rather wait for hours than go back home without voting.
Despite the queues, the mood was generally relaxed and jovial.
People were cracking jokes, while some went to buy take-away lunches which they ate in the queues.
At some polling stations, elderly people were told to go straight to the front of the queue.
In the townships, there was a mood of eager anticipation.
"I'm very excited to be here and to vote. Even if I wait the whole day, I won't get frustrated, I will vote," said Mandla Mlotshwa who had returned home from South Africa to cast his ballot
But some Commonwealth observers told me that a group of MDC polling agents had gone missing in Insiza, 60 km south of Bulawayo.
It is feared that they were abducted, as their car has not been located.
With only a few hours before Zimbabweans go to the polls, some Bulawayo residents are leaving the city for their rural homes saying they fear violence after the results are announced.
This morning some families were seen boarding buses at the Renkini Country Bus terminus.
"I don't want to take chances with my life. The war vets have told us they will fight the new government if Mr Mugabe loses the election," said Mike Ndlovu.
I found Mr Ndlovu at the bus terminus with his three children and wife. He said although he had registered to vote in Bulawayo, he would rather not cast his vote than be killed by war veterans.
Many think the villages will be safer than the city if violence does break out.
While some people are too afraid to vote, scores of Zimbabweans have been returning home from South Africa to cast their ballots.
"I have waited for this day since 2000 and am very excited. This would be my first time to vote," said John Nkala who works in Johannesburg.
He said there many Zimbabweans who returned home this week to vote over the weekend.
The people of Matabeleland have not forgiven President Robert Mugabe for unleashing his notorious North Korean-trained Five Brigade on them in the 1980s.
The brigade, which massacred about 20,000 ethnic Ndebeles in the province, was exclusively composed of recruits from Mr Mugabe┐s Shona ethnic group.
Self-styled war veterans have been rounding up villagers and forced them to attend Mr Mugabe's rallies in Matabeleland.
The "war veterans" threatened the villagers with death if they refused.
One villager said Mr Mugabe would be fooling himself if he believed that the Ndebele people would vote for him next month.
"We will never vote for Mugabe because of what he did in the 80s," he said.
"We are being discriminated against in government and employment," said another villager.
Food aid has already started to arrive in Matabeleland, as the harvests have once again failed in this drought-prone region.
Hundreds of thousands of Ndebeles have already voted with their feet and gone to South Africa in search of jobs.
The Ndebeles originally came from South Africa in the 19th century and the language is similar to Zulu.
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