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Zimbabwe's Ruling Party Wins Crucial Election - 2002-10-28

The ruling Zanu-PF party won a crucial parliamentary election in southern Zimbabwe during the weekend. But the opposition Movement for Democratic Change charges the ruling party bribed voters with government food.

Opposition member of parliament David Coltart says the Movement for Democratic Change will challenge the election results.

He says food, paid for by Zimbabwe's taxpayers, was used by the government's Grain Marketing Board as an inducement to hungry people to persuade them to vote for the ruling party.

Mr. Coltart says voters were told a vote for Zanu PF meant food, and a vote for the opposition meant starvation.

Independent observers, including several western diplomats, confirm that government officials gave grain to voters.

In addition, the Movement for Democratic Change says several of its polling agents, who monitor voting and look after the ballot boxes, were forced to flee their posts. The opposition candidate fled the area during the two days of voting, because he said police told him they could not guarantee his safety.

On Monday, a gang of youths attacked the party's offices in Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, in the same Matabeleland province as Insiza. The party says the offices were badly damaged and accuses ruling party militiamen of carrying out the attack.

Zanu-PF officials declined to respond to the opposition charges, but government-run newspapers call the weekend election 'peaceful and orderly.'

According to official results, the ruling party candidate, Andrew Langa, was elected with a margin of 6,000 votes. He will replace an opposition member of parliament who died in office.

The Insiza district, in the Matabeleland province, where the election took place, is one of the poorest and driest in Zimbabwe.

The World Food Program stopped distributing food to starving people at Insiza two weeks ago after it said Zanu-PF youths stole three tons of food.

The WFP complained to the police, and says it has raised the theft, and also intimidation of relief workers, with the highest authorities in Zimbabwe.

No arrests have yet been made, and there is no date yet for the resumption of U.N. food distribution in Insiza.

The opposition also accuses Mr. Langa, the winning Zanu-PF candidate, of shooting and wounding one of its activists, who doctors say needs surgery to remove a bullet from his back.

Police have made no arrests in the case and accused the opposition of initiating violence before the election.