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Campaigning Ends in Zimbabwe


Friday was the last day of campaigning before presidential elections in Zimbabwe. Both leading presidential candidates are making a last-ditch effort to attract support.

Both President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai made visits to their strongholds on Friday.

Mr. Mugabe addressed a large rally in the town of Bindura, about 100 kilometers north of the capital, Harare. The area is considered a hotbed of activity by militants from his ruling party, ZANU-PF. The situation there has been increasingly tense in recent weeks.

The crowd was reported to be well into the thousands. Reports from nearby areas say people were bused in from towns all over the province to attend the rally.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Tsvangirai visited an industrial area in Harare. He comes from a trade union background, and the area is considered a stronghold for him. Before he spoke, officials from his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, handed out red plastic whistles, which have become a staple at party rallies.

The sound was deafening. Hundreds of MDC supporters gathered near an open field to hear brief remarks from their leader. He dismissed ruling-party claims that he plans to flee the country after the voting in order to avoid being arrested on treason charges.

"There are all these speculations about Tsvangirai running away," he said. "Don't believe that."

It was the opposition leader's last chance to interact with the voters before they go to the polls. He used the opportunity to try and clear up confusion over where voters in the capital should cast their ballots.

The MDC is particularly concerned about the voting process in Harare and nearby Chitungwiza. Voters in both cities will cast their ballots not just for president, but for mayor as well. And Harare has three elections - its voters will also choose members of the city council.

The problem is district boundaries. They are different for the presidential and local elections. So in theory, a Harare voter who goes to the nearest polling station to her home could find her name on the voters' roll for the local election but not for the presidential election, or vice versa.

She would have to go to a different polling station to be able to vote in both elections.

MDC leaders have been trying to warn Harare and Chitungwiza voters about the possible trouble for weeks. Mr. Tsvangirai used his last informal campaign stop to do exactly the same.

"You have to make sure you check your name on the presidential voters' roll, which is the constituency voters' roll, and the ward voters' roll for the election of the mayor and the councilor," he said. "If you don't and they dip your fingers in the fraud ink, you may not be able to vote. The whole intention is to confuse you."

The outcome of the election is still anybody's guess. There is heavy support for the opposition in cities such as Harare, but it is not clear how well the MDC has penetrated the rural areas, which are home to roughly 65 percent of the population. Both candidates continue to say they will walk away the winner.

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