Regional summit called on Zimbabwe crisis as court delays election results

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe's agonising wait for the results of its presidential election is set to continue until Monday at least after the High Court in Harare said it would rule then on an opposition appeal for disclosure of the count.

Regional leaders will convene an emergency summit to discuss the political crisis on Saturday in Zambia. Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, yesterday launched a tour of neighbouring countries in an attempt to persuade leaders to talk Robert Mugabe into accepting a peaceful transition of power.

"I will be going around the countries in the region to make the point that [southern Africa] does not need political chaos and dislocation on [its] doorstep," Mr Tsvangirai told South African state radio before heading to Botswana.

Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC) claims its leader won an outright majority in the poll on 29 March and is demanding the immediate release of results. The delay has caused widespread concern that the Mugabe regime is blocking the news that Zimbabwe's president of 28 years has lost, and may even be tampering with the count.

"Even as we wait for the ruling, nothing should stop [the commission] from announcing the results, should they have them," said an MDC lawyer, Alex Muchajehama. The uncertainty in the impoverished southern African country has already been exploited by Mr Mugabe's Zanu PF party, which has launched a campaign of violence and intimidation against its opponents.

Scores of MDC activists have been assaulted, and so-called war veterans – paid government militias – have relaunched violent farm invasions in an attempt to stir up resentment of Zimbabwe's remaining white community. Desperate appeals for help have been made by both black and white farmers, who have come under siege from the thugs.

Past summits convened to solve the Zimbabwe crisis have ducked any meaningful action against Mr Mugabe, and South Africa's President, Thabo Mbeki, has been singularly reluctant to put any serious pressure on the 84-year-old.

Months of talks between the MDC and Zanu PF, brokered by South Africa, delivered a much-heralded constitutional deal and guarantees for free and fair elections. But the Mugabe regime roundly ignored much of the content of the deal and pressed ahead with gerrymandering, election-rigging, intimidation and vote-buying ahead of the election. Policemen were ordered into polling stations, opposition groups were denied access to state media, thousands of "ghost voters" appeared on electoral rolls and the security services were made to vote en masse prior to election day, all in an attempt to prop up support for Zanu-PF and guarantee a win for Mr Mugabe.

Despite these measures it quickly became clear that there had been a major swing to the MDC, which finally ended Zanu's control of parliament and claimed the political scalps of at least seven of Mr Mugabe's own cabinet. Simba Makoni, a former finance minister who ran against Mr Mugabe in the election but came a distant third, said he went to the election commission several days ago asking to see where the vote-verification was taking place, and was denied permission. The commission has since closed its offices, and when Mr Makoni asked for the location of the new office, he was again refused.

"The inordinate delay in announcing the results of the presidential election has only served to heighten tensions, and is not serving the best interest of the country," he said. Mr Mugabe's party has practically conceded that it has lost the presidential vote and has been using the state-owned Herald newspaper to manage public expectations and prepare the way for a run-off between Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai.