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Page last updated at 16:06 GMT, Friday, 27 June 2008 17:06 UK

Voters snub 'sham' Zimbabwe poll

Voters at a polling station in Harare
Voting is said to be slower than during the first round vote

Voting has been slow in Zimbabwe's run-off presidential poll in which Robert Mugabe is the sole candidate.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the contest because of violence against his supporters.

He said that millions were refusing to vote despite government efforts to force them to take part. He also urged the world not to recognise the result.

The European Union called the run-off a "sham" and the US and Germany say the UN will consider sanctions.

Marwick Khumalo, head of the Pan-African parliamentary observer mission, told the BBC that turnout was very low and that the mood was sombre.

"We saw one long queue, which we mistook for a polling station, only to find the people were queuing for bread," he said, adding that the ingredients for a free and fair election were missing.

Morgan Tsvangirai on the day of polling

However Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told the BBC that people were taking part in large numbers to preserve Zimbabwe's independence.

"They are voting to say no to the recolonisation of our country," he said.

"They are voting to demand the lifting of illegal sanctions against Zimbabwe."

As he cast his vote in Harare, Mr Mugabe, who is 84, said he was feeling "very fit, very optimistic".

'Frightening'

Foreign ministers for the Group of Eight nations (G8) meeting in Japan have said they could not accept the legitimacy of a government "that does not reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people".

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said they would consult other members of the UN Security Council to see what "next steps" might need to be taken.

A woman shows her ink-stained finger after voting
People will not feel safe moving about with an unmarked finger
Zimbabwean citizen

A Zimbabwean journalist said militias loyal to Mr Mugabe were going door-to-door in townships outside the capital, Harare, forcing people to vote.

The BBC's John Simpson, in Zimbabwe despite a reporting ban, says he had never seen an election as frightening - where people know that if they fail to turn out to vote and do not have the ink stain to prove it, they are liable to the most ferocious retribution from the ruling Zanu-PF.

He adds that if someone does summon up the courage to vote for Morgan Tsvangirai, whose name is still on the ballot, then there are fears their identity could be discovered.

Journalist Themba Nkosi, in Bulawayo said officials for Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had told supporters in rural areas to vote if they felt their lives were in danger - and to vote for Morgan Tsvangirai or spoil their ballot.

A resident of Manicaland Province told the BBC: "I am not going to vote in a one-person race. I will not vote for a dictator and for hunger while my brother was killed in cold blood."

Zimbabweans explain why they are voting in the election

But Zanu-PF supporter Richard Munsaka, in Hwange, Matebeland North Province said the question of a free and fair election "depends on the eyes of the beholder".

"I'm not saying there is no violence in the east of the country... but not on a massive scale and that in itself cannot stop the whole country from going to vote just because a few individuals are kicking themselves."

A woman in Harare said: "I will be exercising my right. We as Zimbabweans need to decide the direction that we want the country to take - so we can only do that by voting."

Protection

Reports suggested Zanu-PF membership cards were selling for huge sums on the black market.

Those buying the cards believe they will offer some protection from attack by militias, a BBC correspondent reports.

HAVE YOUR SAY
This election is a charade. Mugabe and his thugs have succeeded in driving out the opposition
Nikolai, UK

Zimbabwe's police said the MDC was planning to disrupt the elections and have warned that any criminal activity will be met "head on, and with the full force of the law".

Polling stations are due to close at 1900 (1700 GMT).

At a news conference in Harare, Mr Tsvangirai said people were being intimidated into voting but said millions were refusing.

He called the poll a "sham" exercise staged by a "dictatorship desperate for the illusion of legitimacy".

Mr Tsvangirai also urged the international community to reject the results.

"Anyone who recognises the result of this election is denying the will of the Zimbabwean people," he said.

Mr Tsvangirai has been taking refuge at the Dutch embassy for most of the past six days.

Talks offer

The MDC is contesting three by-elections that are also taking place on Friday following the deaths of three candidates - in circumstances not related to the political violence.

The MDC won the parliamentary elections - also held in March - but the presidency is a far more powerful institution.

African voices on Zimbabwe's poll crisis

Mr Mugabe came second to Mr Tsvangirai in the first round of the presidential vote in March.

Since then, the MDC says some 86 of its supporters have been killed and 200,000 forced from their homes by militias loyal to Zanu-PF. The government blames the MDC for the violence.

Regional leaders - including from Nigeria, the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and the African Union - had called on Mr Mugabe to postpone the vote and negotiate with the opposition.

While Mr Mugabe said he planned to attend an African Union summit in Egypt next week, Mr Mugabe said the AU had "no right in dictating to us what we should do with our constitution, and how we should govern this country".

He has suggested negotiations with the MDC were possible - "should we emerge victorious, which I believe we will".

Mr Tsvangirai has said negotiations would not be possible if Mr Mugabe went ahead with the run-off.


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