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African Union cautiously approves Zimbabwe vote

African Union cautiously approves Zimbabwe vote

Harare: Zimbabwe's elections received cautious approval on Saturday from the head of African monitors despite allegations by the main challenger to President Robert Mugabe and a local monitoring group that the vote was heavily rigged.

Olusegun Obasanjo, head of the African Union observer mission, said his monitors noted some apparent irregularities but that they did not constitute evidence of systematic tampering. Mugabe's supporters have rejected allegations of rigging and claimed victory, raising fears of a fresh uncertainty in a country long afflicted by division and economic turmoil.

"Yes, the election is free," Obasanjo said. He described the vote as credible unless any evidence to the contrary emerges.

However, he also asked election authorities to investigate reports that tens of thousands of eligible voters were turned away, and to publish the exact numbers of voters. Another poll monitoring group in Zimbabwe said as many as 1 million of the more than 6 million eligible voters were prevented from casting ballots.

"If 25 percent were not allowed, then, yes, the election is fatally flawed," said Obasanjo, a former Nigerian president. His mission has 70 observers.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe's main opponent in the presidential vote, has declared the election "null and void."

Official results announced by the election commission by Friday morning showed Mugabe's ZANU-PF capturing 54 of the 210 parliament seats and Tsvangirai's party winning 19 seats so far.

Full results on the presidential and parliament votes have been promised by Monday.

Obasanjo said voting itself was peaceful but the observers noted "incidences that could have been avoided and even tended to have breached the law."

Independent election monitors have alleged many people were unable to vote because of disorganized voters' lists and a chaotic program to register electors on those lists in the run-up to polling day.

Obasanjo said some apparent irregularities were made in error largely after funding for the vote was late in coming from the nation's depleted state coffers.


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