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Zimbabweans Hold Unscheduled Third Day of Voting - 2002-03-11


Voters trying to cast their ballots in parts of Zimbabwe have gone back to the polls for an unscheduled third day of voting in the country's presidential election. The main opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, says the government is intentionally trying to frustrate his supporters.

Voters lined up again at polling stations around Harare and in the nearby city of Chitungwiza. Voting had been extended by one day in those two cities after a High Court judge Sunday ordered the government to keep the polls open so everybody could vote.

But there was confusion early in the day when polls failed to open on time at 7 a.m. Most centers did not start allowing people to cast their ballots until 11 a.m. or noon. Polling officials at several stations said they had been waiting for instructions from the electoral commission.

Voters in line at several stations complained that they had been waiting for three days and still had not been able to vote. They said many other people did not return to the polling centers Monday because they had to be at work.

"Saturday, we were here at six, up to twelve midnight. Sunday the same. Today the same," said one man. "I don't know what they are doing. They are going slow, every day they go slow."

"We are not very happy, you know," said another voter. "This has started at seven o'clock, but it just opened at 11 o'clock."

One woman said, "Yes, some they have gone home, and they are not yet back."

"They have to extend for five days, I think," another man said.

Only a fraction of the registered voters in Harare and Chitungwiza have been able to cast their ballots so far. The speed of voting did not seem to be any faster Monday than it was Saturday or Sunday.

There is heavy support in both cities for the main opposition presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change.

Mr. Tsvangirai has urged his supporters to remain calm, but he says he fears the election is being rigged. "What we are saying is that in the event these Harare voters are denied their vote, then it's totally illegitimate," he said.

Mr. Tsvangirai is offering a stiff challenge to incumbent President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. It is the first time Mr. Mugabe has faced a serious threat to his hold on the presidency. The opposition leader accused his rival of being willing to do anything to hang onto power.

"They may want to arrest me and at worst kill me, but they will never destroy the spirit of the people to regain their power," he said. "President Mugabe and his colleagues are afraid of the people. And we have heard that they may do anything to kill to messenger. If they do, you must be strong and carry on the work we began together."

Mr. Tsvangirai spoke after the arrests of several high-ranking member of his party, including MDC Secretary-General Welshman Ncube. It is not clear what they were arrested for, but Mr. Tsvangirai said his party will not succumb to what he called intimidation or threats.

Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy says police detained four U.S. diplomats in the town of Chinhoyi, about 100 kilometers southwest of Harare. A U.S. spokesman says they were stopped at a roadblock and detained at a nearby police station for about five hours before being released.

Two of the diplomats are accredited as election observers. The spokesman says he has received no satisfactory reason for the detention, which he calls a "clear violation of diplomatic norms."

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