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Zimbabwe Vote Count Proceeds; Mugabe Swearing-In Seen Sunday

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was likely to be sworn in Sunday for his seventh term after what many in in the country and worldwide were calling an illegitimate run-off election on Friday, as officials in Harare said early returns pointed to a Mugabe win.

That did not surprise most observers, as opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the ballot on June 22, citing mounting deadly violence against supporters of his Movement for Democratic Change, and many voters appeared to heed MDC and civil society boycott calls.

From Mr. Mugabe's standpoint, his inauguration on Sunday would allow him to attend the African Union summit getting under way this weekend in Egypt with what he and his ZANU-PF party - if few others - would call a fresh mandate.

Officials in Harare called the run-off a success with “massive turnout.” But most observers said turnout was light amid general voter apathy and despite threats by pro-Mugabe militants to beat those who could not prove they had voted.

Correspondent Irwin Chifera of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported from Harare that early unofficial results were showing Mr. Mugabe leading Tsvangirai (whose withdrawal Zimbabwe Electoral Commission officials said was filed too late to take effect) by a wide margin.

The Harare government meanwhile was dismissing talk from the African Union summit about a Zimbabwean government of national unity, saying it could shape its own destiny.

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the ruling party was expecting a landslide in Mr. Mugabe's favor.

But spokesman Nelson Chamisa of Tsvangirai's MDC ridiculed the ballot as a "Muppet show" and said the opposition would not recognize Mr. Mugabe as president.

The broad MDC including the grouping led by Arthur Mutambara added a seat to its majority in parliament's lower house. MDC sources said the party claimed the Pelendaba/Mpopoma seat in the Bulawayo metropolitan province, but lost Gwanda South constituency, Matabeleland South province, and Redcliff constituency, in Midlands province, to ZANU-PF.

MDC Elections Director Dennis Murira told Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that ZANU-PF intimidation kept voters from the polls in the two latter constituencies.

The election continued to draw tough world criticism. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called it a "new low" for Zimbabwe. U.S. President George Bush said the ballot ignored the will of the people, adding that he was ordering the State Department and Treasury to work up new sanctions against Harare.

Earlier, a State Department spokesman said the Mugabe government would emerge from the election without legitimacy. Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the U.S. government hopes African Union leaders in summit in Egypt will push for a political solution to the crisis.

Those AU leaders were said to be talking about a "Kenyan-style" power-sharing solution that would let Mr. Mugabe stay in office for two more years.

From the Red Sea resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh, VOA correspondent Peter Heinlein reported that AU foreign ministers were divided over how to respond to the Zimbabwe crisis.

Saturday, some Zimbabweans were suffering the consequences of failing to vote Friday.

Sources in Chinhoyi, Mashonaland West province, said vendors in the Gadzema market who could not show red ink on their finger to prove they voted were being barred by ZANU-PF militia from doing business, as correspondent Arthur Chigoriwa reported.

Civic groups, meanwhile, said attention paid to the election had taken the focus off those who are most affected by the crisis. Policy Manager Fambai Ngirande of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations said more must be done to empower ordinary citizens.

Among reactions by voters, Masvingo resident Moses said the Southern African Development Community has failed, so the United Nations should forcibly install Tsvangirai as president.

Ketai Makosa of Kadoma, Mashonaland West, said Zimbabweans have done what they can in a civilized manner and it is now time for the world to take action.

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