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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 15:31 GMT
Zimbabwe votes: Manicaland
President Mugabe has made significant inroads into opposition territory in Manicaland: Zanu-PF carried nine of the province's 14 constituencies, up from six in the last legislative elections.
The incumbent president did particularly well in rural and semi-rural areas.
The MP for Mutare Central, MDC Chief Whip Innocent Gonese, expressed satisfaction for the result in his constituency, but complained that the playing field had not been level across the province.
He said Zanu-PF supporters had been registering as voters after the deadline had passed.
But Charles Pemhenayi, a provincial spokesperson for Zanu-PF, dismissed Mr Gonese's claims as "sour grapes".
"We simply worked hard to gain some ground in areas perceived as opposition strongholds," Mr Pemhenayi said.
Sombre faces largely greeted the news of President Mugabe's victory in Mutare.
George Mandimika, a father of five, remarked: "Today marks the beginning of the end of our beloved country."
The city, however, remained calm. There were no wild scenes of jubilation from ruling party sypporters.
A climate of unease hung over Mutare on Tuesday as the often painstakingly slow process of verifying ballots cast in the just-ended presidential election got underway.
First, all ballot papers must be accounted for. This process began at around 0700 local time (0500 GMT), but counting proper was only expected to start in the evening at most centres.
The exercise is being conducted in the province's 14 constituencies.
In Mutare North, for example, monitors started checking the constituency's 44 boxes began at 0700, but by 1300, 11 were still outstanding.
Scores of Mutare residents spiced their lunch-break with lively political debates on the possible outcome of the election.
"We have already drawn up a guest list of dignitaries to attend Tsvangirai's inauguration this weekend," bragged Simba Zvinoera, pointing to a portrait of the MDC leader on his T-shirt.
But Aleck Marange, a Zanu-PF loyalist, said State House was President Mugabe's for life.
"Everything at State House has the signature of our leader scrawled all over it, and no amount of wiping will delete it."
Hundreds of refugees in Zimbabwe have fled to South Africa in recent weeks, fearing violence in the aftermath of the most acrimonious presidential poll of Robert Mugabe's 22-year reign.
The refugees, mostly from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are fleeing from Tongogara Camp in Chipinge, 15O km south of Mutare, where they were settled by the government, citing the country's uncertain political future.
Refugee sources said about 2OO were already in South Africa.
"We are no longer sure whether we will be safe in Zimbabwe," a refugee from the DRC told the Eastern Star newspaper in Mutare.
Zimbabwe is home to more than 3 OOO refugees from strife-torn countries such as Angola, Burundi, Congo, the DRC, Liberia and Somalia, as well as far-flung Afghanistan and Yugoslavia.
As Zimbabwe's electoral drama played out in the capital Harare on Monday, queues of a different nature resurfaced in Manicaland in a stark reminder of the country's deepening food crisis.
Hundreds of Mutare residents, who over the weekend lined up patiently to cast their ballots to choose Zimbabwe's next president, are jostling each other once more for scarce commodities such as maize-meal, sugar, milk and cooking oil.
Some 363,360 people in Manicaland - out of a registered total of 658,694 - had cast their votes by 1700 local time (1500 GMT) on Sunday, the second day of polling characterised by short queues.
"Spending much of the day in a queue for mealie-meal is now an almost daily routine," Mutare resident Itai Shonhiwa, said. "I have no choice otherwise my family will starve to death."
Shonhiwa, like many others, often wakes up at the break of dawn to claim front positions in queues forming at the city's leading supermarkets and wholesale outlets.
Shortages of maize-meal have worsened in the past two months with "privileged" citizens like government troops, the police, veterans of the war of independence allegedly accessing the scarce commodities more easily than their ordinary compatriots.
In Mutare, a committee comprising senior government and Zanu-PF officials has been set up to oversee the distribution of maize.
Analysts say Zimbabwe requires at least $450 million from donors to import food and avert mass starvation in the next 16 months.
Heavily-armed government agents swooped on an election command centre of Zimbabwe's main opposition here on Saturday, ostensibly searching for arms of war, as the country's contentious presidential election dragged on.
The MDC said on Sunday that dozens of police and intelligence officers had raided the centre at about 2000, and seized 10 two-way communications radios.
The premises in the city's middle-class suburb of Yeovil, houses the offices of the MDC's shadow minister for defence, Giles Mutsekwa.
Party spokesperson Pishai Muchauraya said police had confiscated the equipment used to communicate with polling agents, saying it was not licensed.
"They said they would only return them if we produced the licences, which we will we do soon because we have them," he said.
Zimbabwean legislation prohibits ownership of such gadgets without a valid licence.
Mr Muchauraya said the police believed the MDC was storing weapons at the centre. "They searched the entire place, but found nothing, " he said. "Instead they ended up confiscating the radios."
Their action, he said, was a political ploy to "demonise" the MDC.
The raid comes amid opposition claims that police were holding 67 MDC polling agents in Manicaland, accused of an "illegal gathering" last week.
Police in Ruda, a rural centre, some 120km north-east of Mutare, have confirmed they were holding some MDC activists.
An officer said they were being held for violating the Public Order and Security Act, which prohibits congregations of a political nature without police consent.
Government critics say the act was designed to crush any threat to Mr Mugabe's 22-year reign.
The second day of voting has got off to a slow start, with many polling stations reporting low turn-outs by midday.
Unlike on Saturday, queues have been much shorter.
Police spokesperson Francis Mubvuta said 10 people had been arrested in Manicaland, for canvassing for votes, bribing pollsters and chanting slogans near polling centres.
"We suspect they are opposition supporters because they were raising open palms," he said.
The MDC uses the open palm as its party symbol, and a casual wave can be misconstrued to reflect allegiance to the opposition group.
Voting so far in the province has almost entirely been peaceful, however.
Electoral officials in Mutare said they did not expect to extend voting Sunday's 1900 closing deadline, unlike in other centres like Harare, where presidential and mayoral elections are running concurrently.
1645, 9 March
Voting continued peacefully in Manicaland late on Saturday, with queues shrinking as the 1900 deadline approached.
It was still unclear by 1845 local time (1645 GMT) how many voters in the province had cast their ballots in the two-day presidential election.
Electoral officials referred all questions to the registrar general's office in the capital, Harare.
But one official said privately that voting had largely gone peacefully throughout the province.
Unlike in other centres, there were hardly any complaints of congestion.
"The electoral process has been fairly smooth so far," said the official, who asked that his name be withheld.
"We have fared considerably better than other provinces where congestion has caused numerous headaches."
However, the official said scores of people had been turned away at various centres in Manicaland for turning up in the wrong constituencies or for not having proper identification papers, among other reasons.
Government troops and police, who were widely expected to be drafted in at the province's 668 polling centres to quell possible violence, were conspicuously absent.
1430, 9 March
Voting in Manicaland started on a high note in sometimes wet weather as Zimbabweans went to the polls to choose the country's next president.
Although the early turnout was generally high in urban areas, it appeared to have started sluggishly in the countryside.
The ruling Zanu-PF party derives most of its support from rural peasants.
By 1200 local time (1000 GMT), thousands of people had cast their ballots at more than 668 polling stations scattered across Manicaland.
There are an additional 1O1 mobile stations.
A climate of peace hung over Mutare, the provincial capital, as voters - both black and white - streamed into polling centres.
Some said they were at the centres as early as 0400 for voting which only began three hours later.
Polling in the two-day poll closes at 1900 in urban areas, and 1700 in the countryside.
"I am so happy I have finally cast my vote," said a visibly elated urban voter, who said she had waited in the queue for three hours.
Electoral officials declined to release the number of people who had cast their ballots in the province by 1200.
All queries were referred to the Registrar-General's office in Harare.
The atmosphere in Mutare, the Manicaland provincial capital, was tense but calm on the eve of the election.
MDC spokesperson Pishai Muchauraya said: "Our chances of winning are very high."
Manicaland is an opposition stronghold. He added: "Our only focus is on forming a transitional government which will represent the will of the people."
But Charles Pemhenayi, of the ruling Zanu-PF party, was equally upbeat about his party's chances of retaining power. "A Zanu-PF victory is a foregone conclusion," he said.
The MDC has in the past said that at least 17,000 of its supporters in Manicaland had been driven from their homes by political violence, which they blamed on ruling party militants.
But these claims have been dismissed by Zanu-PF and the police who say there were not "substantiated".
MDC officials said this week they were working frantically to ensure those affected returned to their homes before polling weekend.
It was not immediately clear if they had managed to achieve their goal.
Zimbabwe's electoral laws stipulate that people can vote only in constituencies they were registered.
Often portrayed as a region of awesome beauty and crisp mountain air, Manicaland has now become accustomed to political violence and kidnappings.
Manicaland, with some 1.6 million inhabitants, is Zimbabwe's most densely populated province.
The scenic province has turned into a political hotbed as the country braces itself for a critical presidential poll due on 9-10 March.
The MDC says several of its members have been killed in Manicaland this year by government-backed activists.
A spokesperson for the MDC in Mutare, Pishai Muchauraya, says political violence has displaced up to 4,OOO opposition supporters in the province so far.
But Charles Pemhenayi, the Zanu-PF Manicaland spokesperson, says: "These guys in MDC manufacture lies, there is no such displacement.
"Besides, it is the MDC, not Zanu PF, engaged in political violence."
But as the deeply troubled country lurches towards polling day, ruling party membership cards have suddenly become a must-have item across Manicaland.
Zanu-PF officials attribute the demand to the party's growing popularity.
But many people who have bought the cards acknowledge privately that they have done so only as a security precaution.
Zanu-PF supporters have mounted road blocks across the region and those found travelling without party cards are routinely beaten up.
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