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Opposition, Government Trade Accusations in Zimbabwe By-Elections - 2003-03-29

Two crucial by-elections in Zimbabwe began early Saturday amid claims of wrongdoing by both the ruling and opposition parties. Police were out in force in in two key working class suburbs of Harare.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change claims that some of its supporters were being denied access to polling booths while ruling Zanu-PF voters were allowed to move to the head of long lines of people waiting to vote.

MDC leaders claim thousands of non-local voters had been included on the electoral lists and were being taken by buses to the suburban voting centers.

But observers say everything seemed quiet and normal in both constituencies by midday.

President Robert Mugabe traveled by motorcade to cast his vote in Highfields, the constituency where he has been registered since Zimbabwe won independence from Britain in 1980. Before polling opened, police minister Kembo Mohadi accused the Movement for Democratic Change of inciting violence and creating civil unrest.

As campaigning closed, President Mugabe described the opposition MDC a terrorist organization and urged voters to "relegate it to the electoral scrap heap."

The two constituencies are both opposition strongholds where the Movement for Democratic Change had massive majorities at the general elections of June, 2000

Polling ends Sunday and results are expected early next week.