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Page last updated at 17:38 GMT, Friday, 27 June 2008 18:38 UK

Tsvangirai rejects 'sham' ballot

Morgan Tsvangirai on the day of polling

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has described the country's election run-off as "an exercise in mass intimidation".

Mr Tsvangirai - who boycotted the poll citing violence - said people across Zimbabwe had been forced to take part and urged the world to reject the vote.

Only President Robert Mugabe stood, and turnout is said to have been low.

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.

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

"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.

However Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told the BBC that people were aiming to preserve Zimbabwe's independence.

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

Earlier, 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 had gone door-to-door in townships outside the capital, Harare, forcing people to vote.

The BBC's John Simpson, in Harare 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 summoned up the courage to vote for Mr Tsvangirai - whose name is still on the ballot - there were 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 as she prepared to vote: "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

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

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

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.

The MDC contested three by-elections held on Friday following the deaths of three candidates - in circumstances not related to the political violence.

The MDC won parliamentary elections 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 - also held 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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