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Zimbabwe Political Dispute Heard at Supreme Court - 2002-10-01

The opposition's challenge to the outcome of Zimbabwe's presidential election last March reached the country's Supreme Court Tuesday. The losing opposition candidate is appealing an earlier ruling which denied him access to the original electronic voter registration list.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was represented by South African advocate Jeremy Gauntlett, in spite of earlier attempts by the Zimbabwe government to bar him from taking on the case.

Mr Gauntlett is one of South Africa's most senior advocates, and has appeared several times on behalf of the African National Congress.

He argued that no challenge to the presidential election, which gave President Robert Mugabe six more years in power, could be complete without scrutiny of the original voters' roll.

The state has refused to release the electronic disks containing the names, offering thousands of pages of printed lists instead.

Mr Gauntlett appealed this decision saying Mr Tsvangirai was entitled to the electronic version.

Among the main allegations by the opposition, even before election day, was that the voters roll was improperly compiled, and was illegally withheld from them. There were claims that tens of thousands of voters were included, long after the closing date for registration.

Lawyers acting for Mr Mugabe have denied all Mr Tsvangirai's allegations.

Three judges, all recent appointees to the bench, heard the appeal, and reserved judgment to a later date.

The largest observer missions, from Europe and the Commonwealth said the elections were neither free nor fair. South African observers, and several small missions from African countries declared the polls were legitimate and credible.

Court officials say the opposition's case will likely continue for several months, and may not even resume until early next year.