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Page last updated at 18:12 GMT, Monday, 31 March 2008 19:12 UK

Expectation grows within Zimbabwe

The BBC is banned from operating in Zimbabwe, but our correspondent Ian Pannell has entered the country. We cannot disclose his location for security reasons.

Torn poster of Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe has ruled since 1980

Zimbabwe and its people are in a state of suspense, waiting for election results that will decide the fate of this blighted country.

The air is thick with expectation and with rumour. The parts of the country we have seen are very calm and, in some cases, unusually quiet.

For security reasons, I cannot reveal our location but the people we have come across have been friendly and ready to speak out.

They do not seem tense, that surprised me. When you talk to them, they are overwhelmingly confident, it is a triumph of optimism over circumstance that people feel that really that this time will be the time for change.

In most cases they have volunteered an opinion - and, invariably, it has been the same one: that Robert Mugabe and his party have been roundly beaten in the polls and now the president must leave office.

There are also plenty of rumours - that perhaps he has fled, what the police and the army will do next - but all uninformed rumour that seems to be swirling around in essentially what is a vacuum in the country because all media sources are controlled by the government.

Only people who have access to satellite television or sporadic facilities with the internet are able to access sources outside the country.

Hope for change

Travelling across the country, you get a sense of what it is that has driven people into the arms of the opposition.

It is fields without crops, shops without goods, petrol stations that are low or empty, women at the side of the road begging for food and traders desperate for customers and hard currency.

Two words crop up in conversation again and again - hope and change.

People say they have voted for change, now they hope the president will stand to one side.

But they also know he is a man who does not like to lose and there have been false dawns before now in Zimbabwe.

When you put it to them "What happens if the president does not go?", this seems an idea they do not seem willing to entertain.

There is also a concern that the longer the results are delayed, the greater the chances are of violence.

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