Mugabe takes big lead as world condemns poll

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The Independent Online

President Robert Mugabe has a large lead over his opposition challenger in Zimbabwe's turbulent presidential election, which the rest of the world has condemned for blatant irregularities.

With about 69 per cent of districts reporting as of early Wednesday morning, Mugabe led oppositon leader Morgan Tsvangirai by about 55 per cent to 42 per cent. State television reported total turnout was 55.4 per cent.

Kare Vollan, head of Norway's 25-strong mission – the largest from Europe following the expulsion of the EU mission last month – said the election "failed to meet key, broadly accepted criteria". She said the poll was "conducted in an environment of strong polarisation, political violence and an election administration with severe shortcomings".

Amnesty International said that 1,400 polling agents and observers had been arrested during the elections as part of the government's "politicallymotivated crackdown".

But the Zimbabwe police said hundreds had been arrested for cheating during balloting in Harare.

In the first six of 120 constituency results in, Mr Mugabe had nearly 70,000 votes against just under 60,000 for the opposition leader Mr Tsvangirai – or roughly 54 per cent of the vote to 45 per cent. Three other candidates earned insignificant numbers of votes. But it was still far too early to make much of the numbers as they represented only around 3 per cent of the vote.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, warned there would be "enormous implications" for relations between Britain and Zimbabwe if Mr Mugabe was proved to have stolen the elections. But he said Britain would await the final results before deciding its response, despite the evidence of violence and voter intimidation.

He told MPs: "There has been every sign of Zanu-PF-backed violence and intimidation right up to the close of polling, as well as many reports of irregularities, including a shortage of polling booths in urban areas and the harassment of opposition election agents in rural areas."

Australia, which hosted the Commonwealth summit last week that fudged a decision on suspending Zimbabwe, gave an early thumbs-down to the integrity of the poll.

The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, told Australia's parliament yesterday: "I can't say whether the outcome of this historic election will reflect the will of the people of Zimbabwe though it would appear that the lead-up to this election has been neither free nor fair."

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