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Alleged Opposition Harassment In Zimbabwe By-Elections - 2001-07-30

Vote counting is underway in Zimbabwe in a crucial parliamentary election that is seen as a popularity test for President Robert Mugabe. Polling and campaigning in the town of Bindura was marked by intimidation and harassment of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

About half of Bindura's 56,000 eligible voters are estimated to have cast ballots during the two-day election. Bindura is a farming and mining center 80 kilometers north west of Harare, the capital.

The election is being held to fill the seat formerly held by Border Gezi, a government minister and one of President Mugabe's most militant supporters. Mr. Gezi was killed in a road accident.

Elliot Pfebv of the Movement for Democratic Change ran against regional governor and ruling-party candidate Elliot Manyika.

Mr. Pfebve was detained by police for three hours Sunday and released without being charged, in what the MDC says was one of a number of incidents of harassment.

Jonathan Moyo, the government minister of information, said Mr. Pfebve was held because he had been making too much noise near a polling station.

Police also detained 21 MDC supporters for a day. The party says another 30 were kidnapped by militia from the ruling ZANU(PF) party. Their whereabouts are unknown, but the MDC says it suspects they are being held at a ruling party torture center.

Before the election scores of people, mostly opposition supporters, were reported beaten up.

Analysts say the Bindura result will be an indicator of success in the presidential poll next year, in which President Robert Mugabe is being challenged by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

In last year's national parliamentary elections the ruling party won 61 of the elected seats in parliament with the MDC capturing 57.