The State Department Tuesday reiterated its assessment that last week's Zimbabwe election was "seriously tainted" by apparent polling and vote-counting irregularities.  The U.S. view clashes with the assessment of regional observers that the process was "credible." 

Officials here are holding to their assessment that the Zimbabwean election was neither free nor fair in the face of generally favorable reports by observers from the region.

An observer mission from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said in a statement it believed the elections were "peaceful and credible," though it did express concern about the number of people who were turned away from the polls for various reasons.

A South African observer team also endorsed the process, though Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which was dealt a major setback in the election, says it continues to collect evidence of alleged irregularities.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States agrees with the view of SADC that the election was peaceful for the most part, but said U.S. officials are "disappointed" by what he said is "mounting evidence of fraud."

He reiterated a U.S. charge that 10 percent of would-be voters were turned away from voting places, especially in areas that were deemed pro-opposition.

Mr. Boucher also cited reports that opposition poll-watchers were not allowed to witness the vote counting in key districts, and that in some districts, the number of votes awarded to President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party was larger than official accounts of total votes cast:

"I think we have seen the problems with this election mount after the voting,? said Mr. Boucher.  ?While we noted the voting itself was orderly, the buildup to the election was tainted by restrictions on the media and the highly charged atmosphere against the opposition.  And unfortunately as they got to the vote counting, they seem to have distorted the process further.  And (the) opposition is making a lot of charges now that there was all kinds of different fraud."

In a statement last Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said flatly the election process was not free and fair, and urged the Mugabe government to "hear and respect" the voices of the many Zimbabweans who she said reject its failed policies and are calling for change.

She further urged Harare authorities to "recognize the legitimacy of the opposition" and abandon policies designed, she said, to "repress, crush and otherwise stifle expression of differences in Zimbabwe.

There has been no indication the Bush administration intends to express its displeasure over the election with punitive actions against the Harare government.

After what was seen here as a badly flawed presidential vote in Zimbabwe in 2002, the United States joined the European union in imposing visa restrictions and targeted economic sanctions against Mr. Mugabe and close associates.