Robert Mugabe set himself on a collision course with the West yesterday when he declared himself the victor of Zimbabwe's presidential election.
A sullen and impoverished nation waited for the President to make his expected triumphant broadcast on television last night.
Mr Mugabe's main challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, now faces an uncertain future after declaring the election results "illegitimate in the eyes of the people". Mr Tsvangirai, who has been charged with treason for allegedly plotting to overthrow Mr Mugabe, described the outcome as "daylight robbery" and "the biggest electoral fraud I have seen in my life".
The final results, announced yesterday after three days of chaotic voting, gave Mr Mugabe 56.2 per cent of the vote – prolonging his 22 years in power. Washington promptly accused Mr Mugabe, 78, of engaging in "a systematic subversion of democracy".
The chorus of protests outside Zimbabwe grew louder as most international observers condemned the violence, intimidation, delays and procedural confusion that prevented a free and fair poll.
But a number of prominent black African leaders and their observer teams, including those from South Africa, Namibia and Nigeria, said they saw nothing wrong with the conduct of the election.
Meanwhile, the Kenyan President, Daniel arap Moi, congratulated his "dear brother" Mr Mugabe on his win.
The split between the teams of observers was particularly important because South Africa and Nigeria are members, with Australia, of a Commonwealth group that will decide whether the 64-nation body should take action against Zimbabwe over the conduct of the elections.
But, with an eye to Western promises of economic aid, the 14-nation group of southern African states, SADC, took a hard line against the conduct of Mr Mugabe's government.
Its observer team stated: "The electoral process could not be said to have adequately complied with the norms and standards for elections."
Tony Blair has made "good governance" a condition for increased economic aid to the continent. The political support that some African leaders extended to Mr Mugabe yesterday undermines Britain's enthusiasm for the Blair idea.
Mr Blair's spokesman said: "Intimidation has been the hallmark of these elections from the off. It's also pretty clear that there are significant efforts to disenfranchise people in the run-up to the election and on the day itself."
US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said the poll was marked by "numerous, profound irregularities" that resulted in an outcome that thwarted the will of the people. "Mugabe can claim victory but not democratic legitimacy," said General Powell, raising the possibility of the United States imposing sanctions beyond the travel sanctions that were announced last month.
Glenys Kinnock, the Labour MEP, called on the international community not to recognise the results of the Zimbabwean election, and demanded an extension of "smart sanctions" to include more members of the government.
EU diplomats in Harare have compiled a report on the voting, which is thought to be deeply critical. EU heads of government, who meet in Barcelona on Friday, will discuss their next move although their options are limited. They are likely to consider an extension of a visa ban and freeze on financial assets now directed at about 20 people but which could be widened to include more members of the government.
The EU imposed its sanctions last month after its election observers were forced to withdraw. Full economic sanctions are unlikely, however, because of the impact they would have on the general population.
Last night, Zimbabweans who supported the opposition Movement for Democratic Change were hunkering down for a hard time in the face of Mr Mugabe's victory at the polls.
Security forces went on high alert and erected roadblocks around Harare after the result was announced. Small groups of armed riot police moved into Harare townships loyal to Mr Tsvangirai, although he vowed to avoid confrontation.
There were no early reports of violence but Amnesty International feared there may be attacks on opposition supporters because international observers had left the country.
State television, notorious for its government bias, signalled the way forward for Mr Mugabe on the 8pm news, which delivered a strong anti-white and anti-MDC message.
It also talked about the need to "attend to the land issue" and to "indigenise the urban economy." "Mr Mugabe has the mandate now, let's do it once and for all," said Zanu-PF supporter Jonathan Kadzura.Reuse content