Page last updated at 09:46 GMT, Saturday, 28 June 2008 10:46 UK

UN 'regrets' Zimbabwe election

Zimbabweans outside a polling station in Harare, 27 June
Reports from across the country indicated low voter turnout

The UN Security Council has said it deeply regrets Zimbabwe's decision to go ahead with the presidential poll.

It said conditions for a free and fair election did not exist, but stopped short of saying it was illegitimate.

President Robert Mugabe is assured of victory after opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai boycotted the poll. Votes are now being counted.

A top African Union diplomat said African leaders could find a credible solution to Zimbabwe's problems.

AU commission chairman Jean Ping emphasized that democracy and human rights were shared values of all the AU countries.

"We are here playing the role of guardian of these values, so when we see there has been violations of some of these shared values, it is our duty to react and call some of our members to order," he said.

Mr Ping was speaking in Egypt ahead of next week's AU summit.

Mr Mugabe is expected to attend the summit and the BBC's Peter Biles in Johannesburg says he will want to declare victory before leaving for Egypt.

'Mass intimidation'

In the latest condemnation of the poll, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown called it "a new low".

"The world is uniting in rejecting the illegitimate regime of Robert Mugabe," he said in a statement.

The European Union and the US earlier dismissed the vote as meaningless.

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

Morgan Tsvangirai on the day of polling

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.

Earlier, the Security Council issued a statement which said members "agreed that conditions for free and fair elections did not exist and it was a matter of deep regret that the election went ahead in these circumstances."

But the statement, backed by all 15 council members including South Africa, China and Russia, stopped short of declaring the election illegitimate because of South African opposition.

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

The Security Council is expected to return to the issue of Zimbabwe in the coming days.

However, diplomats said that because of resistance from South Africa, China and Russia, the council was unlikely to impose sanctions.

At a news conference held in Harare before polls closed, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai described the election as "an exercise in mass intimidation".

Mr Tsvangirai, who boycotted the poll because of violence, said people across Zimbabwe had been forced to take part and urged the international community to reject the vote.

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

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a monitoring group, reported that people had been forced to vote in most rural areas.

Fear of retribution

A Zimbabwean journalist said militias loyal to Mr Mugabe had gone door-to-door in townships outside the capital, Harare, to coerce people.

This election is a charade - Mugabe and his thugs have succeeded in driving out the opposition
Nikolai, UK

Despite the pressure, Marwick Khumalo, who heads of the Pan-African parliamentary observer mission, told the BBC that overall turnout had been low and the mood sombre.

But the state-owned Herald newspaper said there had been a huge voter turnout.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said that people were aiming to preserve Zimbabwe's independence.

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, but Mr Mugabe 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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