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Opposition Claims Victory in Zimbabwe Election, Despite Delayed Release of Official Results

Zimbabwe's main opposition party is claiming victory in the country's general elections, despite the slow trickle of official results from Saturday's vote. Zimbabwe's electoral commission released tabulations Monday [March 31] showing the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change each winning 19 parliamentary seats out of a total 210. The MDC claims it is winning a large majority of seats and claims MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai is leading President Robert Mugabe in the presidential race by a two to one margin.

On the streets of Zimbabwe's major cities, sporadic celebrations and riot police have been seen in the past two days. A correspondent for VOA, who must remain anonymous for security reasons, is in Zimbabwe, files this report on the lead-up to elections.

It is a nation in waiting. The streets of Zimbabwe's major cities are quiet, in these days after one of the most hotly contested presidential and parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe's history. People go about their daily business. They keep their eyes on the government-controlled local tv station, and they keep their ears to the ground [paying close attention].

But at the Bulawayo command center for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, people here are buzzing about possible victory. MDC spokesperson Tabitha Khumalo explains the excitement, "As Zimbabweans, we have made a statement. We have told the ruling party, ZANU-PF, that they have failed dismally."

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe faces his toughest challenge after 28 years in power. MDC founder Morgan Tsvanigirai is running for the fourth time and the faction of the party he leads claims a landslide victory in both the presidential and parliamentary elections. While official results are only trickling out, election workers, for the first time, must post the vote outside and so people are tabulating results independently.

Khumalo says, "There is need for us to be on 'red alert.' We are holding the results. We are not going to sleep. We are going into fifth gear. This is a challenge, we need to prepare for the worst and the best."

After MDC claims of victory, supporters celebrated on the streets. But their jubilation was soon quelled when riot police arrived here. Officers instructed people to keep celebrations at a minimum until results are official.

Riot police also patrol the capital city Harare. The U.S. Embassy warns of the potential for violence. A Zimbabwe government spokesman says the MDC's claims of victory amounts to a coup attempt.

The state-controlled media Monday released the official results slowly. Six parliamentary winners were announced every 15 minutes in English and two native languages, Ndebele and Shona. Election monitors said the slow process fueled speculation of vote rigging.

"There are four elections,” George Chiweshe, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Chairman said. “We have never had four elections before. So, we don't know how long it's going to take us this time."

After casting his vote at a school Saturday in Harare, President Robert Mugabe had told reporters that he would accept the voice of the people in this election. "We don't rig elections," he said.

But when reporters questioned Cheweshe about legitimacy of the election, he ran away from news cameras.

Thoko Khupe, the vice president of the MDC says, "They [the people] know that they have won this election. Results are posted in each and very polling station. I think that everybody in Zimbabwe, ZANU-PF too [the ruling party], is well aware of what is going to happen if this election is stolen again."

"It is now public knowledge that we have won this election. It is not something that is private, everyone knows it. So how can you steal something that is already in the public eye? I think that this time around, we will not allow this situation to happen again," said Khupe.

But only minutes after this interview, riot police again approached the MDC offices. Another Zimbabwean journalist caught on camera an altercation between officers and Khupe. He also said that the police again threatened to arrest everyone present if they spoke of victory or celebrated - harsh threats and unclear answers, for a nation still in waiting.