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Zimbabwe polls: Robert Mugabe's party claims win, opposition cries fraud

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Zimbabwe polls: Robert Mugabes party claims win, opposition cries fraud
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Harare: Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's party claimed a landslide election victory on Thursday that would secure another five years in power for Africa's oldest head of state, but its main rival said the vote was invalidated by "monumental fraud".

Wednesday's voting was peaceful across the southern African nation but conflicting claims heralded an acrimonious dispute over the outcome that increases the chances of a repeat of the violence that followed a contested vote in 2008.

Releasing unofficial results early in Zimbabwe is illegal, and police have said they will arrest anybody who makes premature claims.

Election authorities are due to announce the official outcome by Aug. 5.

But a senior source in 89-year-old Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, who asked not to be named, said the result was already clear.

"We've taken this election. We've buried the MDC. We never had any doubt that we were going to win," the source said phone.

Responding to the claim, a high-ranking source in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party described the election as "a monumental fraud".

"Zimbabweans have been taken for a ride by ZANU-PF and Mugabe. We do not accept it," the source, who asked not to be identified, said.

The MDC was to hold an emergency meeting later on Thursday.

As riot police took up position outside the MDC headquarters in central Harare, an independent election monitor, who also could not be named for fear of arrest, said early results were looking like a "disaster" for Tsvangirai.

Western observers were barred, but the head of an African Union monitoring mission said on Wednesday the polls had initially appeared "peaceful, orderly and free and fair" - an assessment at odds with the view of the MDC and independent agencies.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), the leading domestic monitoring body, said the credibility of the vote was seriously compromised by large numbers of people being turned away from polling stations in MDC strongholds.

It also cast doubt on the authenticity of the voters' roll, noting that 99.97 percent of voters in the countryside -- Mugabe's main source of support -- were registered, against just 67.9 percent in the mostly pro-Tsvangirai urban areas.

In all, 6.4 million people, nearly half the population, had been registered to vote.

"It is not sufficient for elections to be peaceful for elections to be credible," ZESN chairman Solomon Zwana told a news conference. "They must offer all citizens... an equal opportunity to vote."

Reuters

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