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Zimbabwe High Court Hears Arguments On Presidential Election Results

A Harare high court judge Wednesday heard arguments from lawyers for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission regarding a request by the MDC that the court order the commission to release the results of the presidential election held 11 days earlier without further delay.

Tsvangirai's MDC formation maintains that he won the presidential election with 50.3% of the vote. Though no official results have been released, President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party says the ballot produced no clear winner and seeks a runoff.

Former finance minister Simba Makoni, a presidential candidate in the recent election, broke silence Wednesday for the first time since the ballot, urging that the commission release the presidential results. Addressing journalists in a Harare news conference he accused ZANU-PF of manipulating the commission in an effort to suppress the election outcome, but was also critical of the commission.

Pressed by journalists, Makoni declined to say who he would back in a runoff.

After hearing the arguments by lawyers for the MDC and the ZEC, Justice Tendai Uchena told the parties he would hand down a decision by Tuesday, April 14.

Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe was in the high court Wednesday and filed a report on the proceedings.

Representing the electoral commission, attorney George Chikumbirike told the court that compelling the commission to release the results would undermine its integrity and independence, and that the commission should be allowed to do its work.

MDC lawyer Alec Muchadehama said there was no reason for the commission not to announce the results as each constituency had quickly posted local results.

Chikumbirike had earlier asked the court not to oblige the commission to release the results due to the potential consequences to the members of the commission, hinting that the body was operating under heavy duress from the government.

In a related development, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights voiced its "grave concern" at the arrests and prosecution of a number of commission staff members in various parts of the country who are facing criminal charges that they committed election fraud in an alleged attempt to reduce votes going to Mr. Mugabe.

The non-governmental legal group said the arrests and prosecutions "constitute executive interference in the work of a purportedly independent institution, and must therefore be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The actions of the police and their commanders smack of intentional intimidation of officers of an electoral body and can be considered to be an attack on ZEC's integrity and ability to complete its constitutional duties without fear or favor, which is already in dispute."

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights Director Irene Petras told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that lawyers representing the arrested officials have not been able to see their clients or relevant court dockets.

In Gweru, capital of Midlands Province, elections officer Dorcas Mpofu remained in custody on Wednesday after a Gweru magistrate put off a decision on a request that she be granted bail. Mpofu has been accused of sending false presidential election results to the election command center in Harare on March 29.

Correspondent Taurai Shava of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported on the court proceedings Wednesday in Gweru.

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