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Zimbabwe Political and Civil Rights Groups Call for Extended Polling - 2002-03-10

The two largest political and civil rights coalitions in Zimbabwe accused the government and ruling party of violence and poll rigging on the first day of the country's two-day presidential election. The groups Election Support Network and Crisis in Zimbabwe also warn of what they term a "potentially explosive crisis" if polling is not extended beyond Sunday.

The two groups, which represent more than 100 organizations in Zimbabwe, said that at least 50 officials of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have been kidnapped by ruling party militants and others have been beaten. The two agencies said police at a number of polling stations had beaten voters for no reason at all.

The coalitions said there had been a number of incidents of illegal registration of voters by the ruling ZANU-PF party. President Robert Mugabe is being challenged by Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC.

In Harare, the capital, and in the second city of Bulawayo, voters complained of having to wait for more than 10 hours.

Brian Kagoro, spokesman for Crisis in Zimbabwe, said that a free and fair poll is impossible.

Both Mr. Kagoro and Reginald Matchaba Hove of the Election Support Network said it was also essential for polling to be extended by up to two days, because of a huge backlogs of voters in the towns and cities.

The two organizations criticized the government for reducing the number of polling stations in urban areas by an average of 45 percent.

Mr. Kagoro said the government was guilty of what he called " a well-orchestrated ploy" to reduce voter turnout in the towns, as these are the areas where the MDC commands its main support.

Government estimates put the total number of voters in Zimbabwe at 5.6 million.