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Commonwealth Condemns<br>Zimbabwe Vote - 2002-03-14


A Commonwealth observer group has condemned the presidential election in Zimbabwe, a move that may lead to the country's ejection from the international body.

The group, which includes Britain and its former colonies, issued a preliminary report on the controversial vote that will allow President Robert Mugabe to remain in power. The report said the election was, in its words, "not a free expression of will by the electorate" because, it said, thousands of opposition supporters were disenfranchised and intimidated.

The election took place Saturday through Monday.

A final report is expected in the coming days. After that, a three-nation group (Nigeria, South Africa and Australia) will recommend whether to impose sanctions. Observers say the Commonwealth's stance is much harsher than expected.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said Wednesday he has received conflicting reports on the way the election was run and he needs a more definitive assessment of how the polling and vote counting was conducted.

The United States, Britain and other Western countries say the election was not legitimate. U-S officials say Washington is considering further sanctions against the Mugabe government.

Election officials said President Mugabe won re-election with about 55 percent of the vote, to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's 40 percent. Mr. Tsvangirai has rejected the outcome, calling the process "massively rigged."

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