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Zimbabwe Election Commission Begins Announcing Poll Results

Zimbabwe's electoral commission has begun releasing official results from the nation's presidential and legislative elections. The announcement of the preliminary tallies, showing the ruling and main opposition parties winning 12 parliamentary seats each, came a day after election officials authenticated the count. Peta Thornycroft reports from the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.

Some independent election officials say the delay in announcing the results was unnecessary and as a result the electorate is questioning the process. In previous elections, announcements were immediately released to national radio and television for broadcast.

The same officials say the delay has led to tensions in urban areas.

Riot police moved into deserted Harare Sunday night about six hours before the first results were announced. And the U.S. Embassy in Harare said the uncertain political situation had raised the potential for violence across the country. The embassy issued a warning to Americans in the country to move to safe locations.

The head of the Zimbabwe Election Commission, George Chiweshe, told reporters clamoring for results that the tabulation process was taking much longer than in the past because four elections took place simultaneously.

"I don't know," he said. "These are four elections. We have never held four elections before."

In a balloting that was largely peaceful Saturday voters chose a president, national assembly, senate and local councils.

A leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, David Coltart, said the result for the senate seat in his Matabeleland constituency, which he won, was certified as accurate by the Election Commission midday Sunday.

Many other results have also been certified by election officials, especially in urban areas, but they have not been released yet to the public.

The MDC says it has kept a close record of votes cast as reported by its monitors at the 95-hundred polling stations.

Before results started coming out, MDC secretary general Tendai Biti said late Sunday that Morgan Tsvangirai had scored about 55-percent of the vote in the presidential poll.

"We are aware that the results are final in most of the constituencies and it appears that the regime is at a loss vis-à-vis how to respond and therefore it is taking its time deliberately," said Biti.

But the Election Commission warned the M.D.C. not to be provocative by claiming victory ahead of the official results.

ZANU-PF election head Elliot Manyika predicted late Sunday that President Robert Mugabe had won a sixth term in office. He said in a telephone interview that ZANU-PF was poised for victory in all four elections.

There were three candidates in the presidential election, Mr. Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai and former finance minister Simba Makoni. The winner must have an absolute majority of 51% or face a run off in twenty one days.