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Sunday, 10 March, 2002, 20:21 GMT
Zimbabwe vote extended
People wait to vote in Harare
Voting was still going on past the official close
Zimbabwe's High Court has ruled that the bitterly fought presidential election should continue for a third day.

Eric Matinenga, a lawyer for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said the judge had ordered that an extension be granted "not only for Harare ... but the whole country until close of voting tomorrow."


What we would hate is a situation where some people would be turned away because they were not able to vote

Morgan Tsvangirai
There has been no immediate reaction from the government, but state television said Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa would appeal to the Supreme Court to strike down the ruling.

As the time for the official end of voting passed on Sunday at 1900 local time, thousands of people were still waiting to cast their ballot.

Mr Chinamasa had said those still queuing when polls closed would be allowed to vote, but that any further extension was unnecessary.

Some 5.6 million people have been eligible to vote in the election, in which President Robert Mugabe faces a strong challenge to his 22-year rule from MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

The election's registrar general, Tobaiwa Mudede, said that by midday on Sunday, 2.4 million people had cast their vote - less than 50% of those registered.

Urban strongholds

After the MDC asked the High Court to extend voting into Monday, officials from the court flew over the busy areas to assess the scale of the queues.


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Our names had to be checked on four different rolls and as those checking didn't know the alphabet, this took ages

Brian, Zimbabwe
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The opposition has alleged that the government has been deliberately slowing the pace of voting in its urban strongholds to boost the chances of Mr Mugabe being re-elected.

Casting his vote on Sunday, Mr Tsvangirai renewed his call for an extension of the vote.

"What we would hate is a situation where some people would be turned away because they were not able to vote. That I think would be a tragedy for this country."

Correspondents say last-minute changes to the election laws, changes to the voter register and a reduction in the number of polling stations in urban areas, have slowed the process dramatically.

'Frustrating' wait

Thousands of urban voters spent long hours in queues on Saturday, and some spent the night outside, waiting for polling stations to re-open on Sunday morning.


Zimbabwe votes:
  • Leading candidates: President Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai
  • Polling stations open 0700 - 1900 (0500 - 1700 GMT) Saturday and Sunday
  • 5.6 million registered to vote
  • 4,548 polling stations within 120 constituencies

      Q&A: Election basics

      Regional reports

  • One station in Harare stayed open all night to cope with the large turnout.

    Dennis Musodzi, a teacher who had been waiting at a polling station in Harare's western Dzivarasekwa township since Saturday, said: "It is frustrating but if the idea is to discourage us from voting, that is not going to happen.

    "I am prepared to spend another day and night here, and I am not making secret what I am here for. I am waiting to vote for Tsvangirai because I am sick and tired of Mugabe."

    International observers have expressed concern about the delays.

    Kare Vollan, head of Norway's election observers, said: "There have been queues of thousands of people waiting outside for many hours and with the speed that they started today it is not possible to process all those voters over two days."

    Morgan Tsvangirai votes
    Tsvangirai said he could not "prejudge" the vote's outcome
    Despite long queues in Harare, reports suggest voting in other areas is not as brisk.

    In the second city of Bulawayo, many polling stations were almost deserted on Sunday after a busy first day of voting.

    And in Manicaland, queues to vote were said to be much shorter than on Saturday, with many polling stations reporting low turnouts by midday.

    Sanctions

    After casting his vote on Saturday, Mr Mugabe hit out at his critics - at home and abroad.

    "They are supporters of the opposition. It is not only prejudice, it is bias against the [ruling party], bias against President Mugabe, and bias in favour of the opposition."

    In the run-up to the election, the European Union and United States imposed sanctions on Mr Mugabe and his aides, citing political violence and manipulation of the election process.

    Within the region, the poll is seen as crucial for Zimbabwe's neighbours, as the country's economic crisis has hit trade - depriving South Africa of multi-million-dollar foreign investment - and created a new refugee problem.

    Mr Mugabe's opponents say misrule and controversial land grabs by his supporters are largely to blame for the economic crisis.

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Rageh Omaar
    "There will now be an extra day of voting"
    The BBC's Peter Biles
    "It is exactly what the opposition wanted"
    Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo
    "We went out of our way to extend voting times"
    MDC Lawyer Innocent Chagonda
    "The High Court has ruled in favour of the extension"

    Key stories

    The vote

    SLIDESHOW

    TALKING POINT

    AUDIO VIDEO
    REGIONAL ROUNDUP
    See also:

    10 Mar 02 | Africa
    Zimbabwe election in quotes
    10 Mar 02 | Media reports
    Mugabe 'playing last card'
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