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With Presidential Run-Off Mooted, Violence Rages In Zimbabwean Provinces

Post-election violence continued in Zimbabwe's hinterland on Thursday even as the country's electoral authority convened presidential candidates and their agents for consultations on the outcome, which pointed to a presidential run-off ballot.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission told representatives of presidential candidates in the March 29 elections that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai received 47.8% of the vote, short of a majority, against President Robert Mugabe's 43.2% share.

Officials of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party said a run-off election would be necessary, but Tsvangirai's formation of the Movement for Democratic Change insisted that he won the election outright, if by a narrow margin, rejecting the idea of a run-off.

Many observers believe a presidential run-off election would be accompanied by even worse violence than seen to date, and the U.S. government said that with a campaign of "state-orchestrated violence" under way, such an election could not be fair.

Sources in Mashonaland Central Province said violence continued to escalate there as ZANU-PF youth militia members burned the houses of opposition members.

Mashonaland Central sources said homes were torched in Bushu, in Shamva South constituency, and at Butter Farm, in Bindura North constituency.

From the Makoni South constituency of Manicaland Province, sources reported that a headmaster at the Chakumba Primary School there was battling for life after being assaulted by ZANU-PF militants on Thursday afternoon.

In Mutare, capital of Manicaland Province, the body of opposition activist Thabitha Marume, shot dead by ZANU-PF militia members last week in the town of Rusape, was collected from a local mortuary and was to be buried on Friday, sources said.

The U.S. Embassy provided evidence of alleged state-sponsored political violence and human rights abuses to the government. Senior officials of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change say 20 of their members have been murdered.

Police arrested 10 opposition activists in Harare and Bindura, Mashonaland Central Province, on charges of public violence. Those arrested in Bindura were accused of kidnapping a soldier by forcing him into their vehicle.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted police as saying the soldier escaped with injuries and was hospitalized for treatment.

Speaking from Bindura, opposition member Saymore Mhene told VOA reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that police are arresting MDC members who report incidents of violence.

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