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Zimbabwe Electoral Authorities Pressured To Release Results; Mugabe Defeat Seen

Tension was running high in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare late Sunday, one day after presidential, general and local elections, as the opposition said it had delivered a resounding defeat to President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party but the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission failed to bring forth official results.

Earlier in the day the government and the elections commission warned the opposition Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Morgan Tsvangirai, a presidential candidate, against releasing unofficial results. Party officials responded that they had the right to circulate figures posted at local polling stations and at higher levels.

Tsvangirai formation spokesman Nelson Chamisa told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the MDC release of data had been perfectly legal.

Preliminary results suggested that Tsvangirai's MDC formation made deep inroads in parts of the country traditionally dominated by Mr. Mugabe's ruling party, unseating a number of ZANU-PF ministers in house of assembly races. The Tsvangirai grouping also bested the rival MDC formation led by Arthur Mutambara, which had thrown its political weight behind independent presidential candidate Simba Makoni.

Early projections from qualified sources gave Tsvangirai better than 50% of the vote in the presidential race, trailed by Mr. Mugabe with 36% and Makoni under 10%.

There were unconfirmed reports that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission was under intense pressure from military authorities to declare Mr. Mugabe the winner.

Earlier, delay in the release of official results led Secretary General Tendai Biti of the Tsvangirai MDC grouping to refer to a "constitutional threat" to the outcome. Biti had been categorical as to the opposition's sweeping victory, "barring a miracle."

Correspondent Sylvia Manika of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported on the MDC news conferences held at 1 a.m. Sunday and later in the morning.

Little was forthcoming throughout Sunday from the government. Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu urged the population to be patient and to remain calm.

Presidential spokesman George Charamba told the state-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper that if Tsvangirai declared himself the winner before official results were released, that would be tantamount to a coup.

The U.S. embassy released a statement warning American citizens in Zimbabwe that a "volatile situation" was developing in the wake of the elections "with the possibility of violence across Zimbabwe" through Sunday night into Monday. It advised American citizens to "move to a safe location until the Embassy provides further information."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in the Mideast, said Mr. Mugabe was a “disgrace” to his people and Africa, voicing concern on whether the elections could be determined to have been free and fair given the scarcity of international observers.

Late Sunday all eyes were on the election command center in the Harare International Conference Center where journalists and others waited for ZEC to release results.

Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported on what ZEC was telling the country.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a civic organization that deployed 11,000 election observers across the country, said electoral commission delays in releasing the results were causing confusion and concern. Though preliminary results had been posted outside polling stations nationwide, ZESN officials said electoral authorities were telling them that they were encountering unspecified logistical problems.

Correspondent Sylvia Manika covered a ZESN news conference late Sunday at which the non-governmental organization demanded that ZEC release election results.

ZESN Chairman Noel Kututwa told reporter Carole Gombakomba that ZEC's delay in releasing the results was unusual as figures had emerged faster in other elections.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, another non-governmental organization, criticized the electoral commission for withholding the results, saying this could cause alarm.

Crisis Coalition spokesman MacDonald Lewanika told reporter Patience Rusere that efforts to obtain clarification from the electoral commission had been fruitless.

A polling agent from Zvimba, Mashonaland West, expressed surprise and concern at the delay in releasing results. This official, who identified himself only as Richard, told Marvellous Mhlanga-Nyahuye that his station had finalized results very early.

Residents of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city, spent Sunday with their ears glued to radios and televisions, anxiously awaiting official election results, as correspondent Netsai Mlilo reported from the City of Kings.

In Mutare, on the other side of the country near the border with Mozambique, police dispersed a crowd of MDC supporters that had assembled to celebrate the victories of their house candidates, as Studio 7 correspondent Loirdham Moyo reported.

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