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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 09:43 GMT
Q&A: Zimbabwe's prospects
President Robert Mugabe has been declared the winner of Zimbabwe's presidential elections. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change says the vote was fixed.

What happens next?

First, there is the possibility of street protests, which have the potential of becoming violent.

Many residents of the capital, Harare, feel they were prevented from voting and may decide that the only way of making their voices heard is on the streets.

How would the authorities respond?

They are expected to send in the troops, which were already deployed at some potential flash-points across the country on Tuesday night.

If the protests are sustained, the situation may then hinge on whether the soldiers are willing to obey orders to shoot at the demonstrators.

Will there definitely be violence?

Not necessarily.

In the past, calls for massive anti-government demonstrations have often gone unheeded - because people know the risks they would be taking.

It all depends on how angry people are - and to what extent they believe the results were fixed.

What can the international community do?

Not a great deal.

The European Union and the United States have already imposed sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and his associates.

They are unlikely to impose wider trade sanctions because they would hit the general population, who are already suffering in the country's economic crisis.

The Commonwealth has said it will wait for the verdict of its observer team before deciding whether to suspend Zimbabwe from the organisation.

But a suspension would be largely symbolic. Mr Mugabe has already said he does not care about the Commonwealth because it has no economic power.

South Africa is the country with real leverage because it supplies Zimbabwe with fuel and electricity.

The South African Government is unwilling to take the drastic step of cutting such supplies, fearing it would lead to an increase in the number of Zimbabweans crossing the border.

Mr Mugabe may take some notice if his southern African neighbours - and regional powerhouse Nigeria - were to criticise the poll and urge some compromise deal, such as a coalition government.

And what will Mr Mugabe do?

He will breathe a huge sigh of relief after all his careful planning delivered him victory.

He will undoubtedly continue with his programme of redistributing white-owned farms to his black peasant powerbase.

During the campaign, he promised to continue legal action against his challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, who is charged with treason.

Some MDC leaders have reportedly already gone into hiding.

However, this is where pressure from Zimbabwe's neighbours may have some effect. The president might listen, if they asked him to restrain his supporters and not be vindictive.

And what about the economy?

The prospects look extremely grim.

The foreign currency shortages which have caused so many business to close down look set to continue.

The IMF and other donors are unlikely to restore aid while Mr Mugabe is in charge - especially if he is the subject of sanctions.

Foreign investors will also continue to give Zimbabwe a wide berth.

What can Mr Tsvangirai do?

He has said he will go to the Supreme Court to contest the election result. But he has also said that after the appointment of Mugabe sympathisers as judges, he feels this may be a waste of time.

His other option would be to call for street protests.

This would probably mean being arrested again and the high probability of some of his supporters being attacked by government supporters.

If he were to decide not to take this step, he would be criticised for being weak, however it may avoid plunging Zimbabwe into civil war.

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