Page last updated at 18:32 GMT, Monday, 21 April 2008 19:32 UK

Mugabe trying to 'steal election'

Secretly filmed footage of alleged attack victims in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is trying "to steal the election", over three weeks after the disputed poll, Foreign Secretary David Miliband says.

In a strongly-worded House of Commons statement, he said: "No-one can have any faith in this recount."

He said the "ludicrously slow rate" of the count fuelled suspicion that Mugabe "is seeking to reverse the results".

Mr Miliband's comments came after video footage emerged of opposition supporters being beaten up.

Human rights groups have alleged they have found camps where people are being tortured for having voted "the wrong way". The government denies the allegations.

The world is witnessing "a charade of democracy", Mr Miliband said, as the recount in 23 out of 210 seats due to finish on Monday was delayed further. Election officials did not say when they expected to finish.

A South African election observer monitoring the partial recount described the entire process as futile.

South African MP Dianne Kohler-Barnard said she had seen evidence of tampering with ballot-boxes to ensure victory for Mr Mugabe and his party.

'Campaign of violence'

The MDC opposition, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, says the recount is illegal and claims it beat Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF outright in the 29 March polls.

Zimbabwe's government rejects this and accuses the opposition of being stooges for the UK government.

The BBC has uncovered evidence that Zanu-PF is behind attacks on Zimbabweans who supported the MDC.

Footage smuggled out of the country to South Africa and verified by the BBC, will be shown for the first time on the Six O'Clock News.

Mr Miliband cast doubt on the security of the ballot boxes held by the authorities since polling day, noting that election officials have been arrested.

We can have little confidence that whatever is ultimately announced as the presidential election results will not have been sullied and contaminated by rigging through this recount
David Miliband
UK Foreign Secretary

"The constitutional crisis in Zimbabwe continues as President Mugabe persists in his ambition to steal the election," he said in a written statement.

"Most worryingly, President Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party have unleashed a campaign of violence against those ordinary Zimbabweans, 60% of them, who in spite of everything, voted against him."

He said people in rural areas that were once Mugabe strongholds "have been pouring into urban centres to receive medical treatment and support".

Local and international NGOs (non-governmental organisations) were "highlighting these abuses daily".

"Evidence that they are taking place is irrefutable," he said.

'Uncertain conditions'

"I believe all would join the government in condemning absolutely these acts of violence which are cynically intended to punish people for the choices they have made and to intimidate them into submissions should any second round of the presidential election be called."

Ordinary Africans do not condone the way in which President Mugabe is clinging on to power and beating his own people to death to ensure he retains it
David Miliband

On the recount in 23 constituencies, Mr Miliband said: "No-one can have any faith in this recount.

"The ballot boxes have been kept in uncertain conditions. The Electoral Commission has seen 13 of their number arrested in a clear effort to threaten and punish those who did their job independently.

"The count itself is proceeding at a ludicrously slow rate.

"This only serves to fuel suspicion that President Mugabe is seeking to reverse the results that have been published, to regain a majority in parliament, and to amplify his own count in the presidential election.

"If that is the case, then what we are witnessing is a charade of democracy.

"We can have little confidence that whatever is ultimately announced as the presidential election results will not have been sullied and contaminated by rigging through this recount."

Regional pressure

Mr Miliband praised dockers in Durban, South Africa, who turned away a Chinese ship with weapons destined for Zimbabwe.

"The reaction of South African dockers to the direction to unload arms they believed destined for Zimbabwe shows that ordinary Africans do not condone the way in which President Mugabe is clinging on to power and beating his own people to death to ensure he retains it," he said.

Mozambique has also refused to unload the arms, and the shipment is believed to be on its way to Angola.

MDC secretary general Tendai Biti said violence has displaced 3,000 people, injured 500 and left 10 dead.

Mr Miliband accused Zanu-PF of trying to "punish people for the choices they have made and to intimidate them into submission" in any second round of the presidential poll.

He said Britain felt countries in the region were "still best placed to apply pressure on President Mugabe".

Zuma visit

Relations with South African President Thabo Mbeki have been strained in recent weeks as he has appeared to back Mr Mugabe in the stand-off with the international community.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is set to meet African National Congress President Jacob Zuma in Downing Street on Wednesday.

Mr Zuma, widely tipped to take over from Mr Mbeki as South African president in 2009, has been more outspoken about the need for world leaders to challenge Mr Mugabe's regime.




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