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Low Turnout, Intimidation, Rigging Reported In Zimbabwe Run-Off Ballot

Some Zimbabweans went to the polls on Friday to elect their next president, but reports from a wide range of sources suggested that many more stayed home, heeding calls by opposition and civil society leaders to boycott the election or, if compelled to vote, to spoil their ballot rather than vote for President Robert Mugabe, the only candidate still in the race.

Turnout was reported to be very light in many locations while in others reports said militia of the ruling ZANU-PF party forced voters to go to the polls. Some reports said police and other officials looked over voters’ shoulders to make sure they voted for Mr. Mugabe.

The European Union and the United States condemned Friday's election, calling it devoid of legitimacy. An EU spokesman told VOA that the election was "hollow." while a spokesman at the U.S. State Department in Washington called the election a “sham process.”

The government dismissed reports that voters were being frogmarched to the polls. Harare accused Britain and the United States of trying to undermine the election.

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that balloting was taking place without problems.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who pulled out of the election on Sunday saying he could not ask Zimbabweans to cast their ballots for him when that might cost them their lives in a climate of violence, called Friday's election a “shameful humiliation.”

Tsvangirai told reporter Blessing Zulu that what took place in Zimbabwe Friday could not accurately be called an election, but was rather a "selection."

Tsvangirai spoke from the Embassy of the Netherlands in Harare, where he sought refuge on Sunday after announcing that his Movement for Democratic Change would not participate in the election due to mounting political violence primarily against opposition supporters. Most observers say the violence has been state-sponsored, though Harare denies.

Epworth, Harare, voter Jason said he voted just to get his fingers inked to avoid being beaten by ZANU-PF militia demanding proof from residents they had voted. He said ruling party officials sought to determine how he voted.

Bulawayo correspondent Netsai Mlilo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe said some residents decided to vote late in the day after ZANU-PF militants threatened violence against anyone without red ink on their hands as evidence they went to the polls and cast a ballot.

Executive Director Gordon Moyo of the Bulawayo Agenda, a civic group, said the atmosphere in Bulawayo was one of general apathy. his organization monitored voting in a number of districts in Bulawayo and Midlands province.

Moyo told reporter Patience Rusere that his organization had gathered information suggesting that non-residents had been bused into Bulawayo to cast ballots there.

The head of the Southern African Development Community’s observer mission said his group received reports of irregularities – but Tanki Mothae said otherwise voting went smoothly

The observer mission sent by the Pan-African Parliament said the election was marked apathy, and though peaceful in the cities was marred by violence in Midlands province.

Marwick Khumalo, head of the African parliamentary delegation of 60 observers, told Carole Gombakomba that the single-candidate election will be a liability for Mr. Mugabe at the African Union summit opening Monday in Egypt, and for the rest of his tenure.

Senior political science lecturer John Makumbe of the University of Zimbabwe argued that although the vote was considered a “sham” by many, the ballot for President Mugabe represented a chance to legitimize his continued rule.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...