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Clashes Mar First Day of Zimbabwe Special Elections - 2004-03-27

Clashes between rival political groups marred the first of two day's in Zimbabwe's special elections.

Tension ran high between supporters of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change in the Zengeza constituency near Harare where voting for a vacant parliamentary seat started Saturday.

The MDC charges that police arrested youth members of both parties after ZANU-PF sympathizers allegedly tried to stop people they suspected of supporting the opposition from voting.

Chairman of Zimbabwe's independent Electoral Support Network, Reginald Matchaba-Hove, said, while skirmishes had occurred, there were no reports of serious violence. The network confirmed, however, that the home of the opposition candidate was attacked by ZANU-PF supporters earlier this week.

The Zengeza seat fell vacant after the MDC member of parliament for the area went into self-imposed exile, alleging harassment by members of the ruling party.

The MDC won 57 in the 150-member parliament in the 2000 parliamentary elections. The ruling party won 62. The remaining 30 were selected by President Mugabe.

The strongly contested Zengeza seat is seen as a test of the ruling party's support in urban areas ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2005. Moreover, should Mr. Mugabe's party win this and less than a handful of other seats, it would acquire the two thirds majority in the house of parliament in needs to amend the constitution and pass any legislation it wants.