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Zimbabwe Opposition Party Scores Victory in Court - 2002-01-26

The main opposition political party in Zimbabwe has won a legal challenge against the government that analysts say could change the outlook for the presidential election planned for March 9 and 10. A court has ruled that voters will be allowed to cast their ballots anywhere in the country and not only in the areas in which they are registered.

High Court judge Rita Makarau agreed with the argument of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, the MDC, that Zimbabwe's constitution places no restriction on where votes may be cast in presidential elections. Her ruling overturns a government decree last year barring people from Zimbabwe from voting outside their constituencies.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is challenging President Robert Mugabe for the presidency, called the court decision "historic" because it allows everybody who is constitutionally eligible to take part in what he calls "this make or break election." There are about 3.5 million registered voters in Zimbabwe.

MDC and human rights groups have accused the government of conducting a campaign of terror in the last six months against opposition supporters, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee from their home areas, and so make them ineligible to vote under the overturned decree.

However, legal specialists in the MDC point out that the government has the right to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile campaign violence in Zimbabwe is continuing. An MDC supporter and an activist have been killed in the two latest incidents. The MDC says they were murdered by the ruling ZANU-PF party. Police, however, say one of the men died in a car accident while the other death was criminally, not politically, related.