‘Pray for peace’ as Mugabe celebrates ‘landslide’

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Zimbabwean church leaders yesterday urged worshippers to pray for peace after disputed elections gave long-time President Robert Mugabe a landslide victory in the presidential and parliamentary vote.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe asked its followers to wait for “dialogue to resolve outstanding issues with self-control and tolerance”.

In pastoral messages given by priests, Roman Catholic churches, whose monitors criticised Wednesday’s voting for widespread irregularities, called on Catholics not to be “consumed by bitterness that leads to violence”.

“Peace in your heart brings calm. Trust and have faith,” said Father Charles Kanongwa, a church leader.

Preparing for possible disturbances, however, police mounted extra roadblocks in the capital, some manned unusually by officers with automatic rifles. Troops were camped downtown where water canon trucks were also stationed.

Mugabe took 62 per cent of the presidential vote compared to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s 34 per cent, according to official results.

Mr Tsvangirai rejected the vote as “a monumental fraud” and says he will challenge the results that also gave Mugabe’s party a two-thirds majority in the 210 seat parliament, enabling it to alter aspects of the country’s new constitution it opposed when the charter was being rewritten.

In the last elections in 2008, the opposition captured 111 seats to Mugabe’s 99. Mr Tsvangirai 
beat Mugabe in the first round of that presidential vote but boycotted a run-off to protest an onslaught of violence against his supporters.

Regional southern African monitors and observers from the continentwide African Union have demanded investigations into allegations of inflated voting by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the absence of an estimated 700,000 names of eligible voters from voters’ lists.

While voting was largely peaceful on polling day, a complete audit of the lists and votes cast could take weeks, even if the official state election commission dominated by Mugabe supporters makes them available, independent observers say.

Mugabe’s party denies vote rigging and says Mugabe, 89, could be sworn in for his seventh term in office since independence in 1980 after nine days are allowed for legal challenges.

South African President Jacob Zuma, the chief regional mediator in Zimbabwe’s decade-long political and economic crisis, congratulated Mugabe on his election victory and sought acceptance of the result from the losers.

Mugabe’s state radio quoted Sydney Sekeramayi, his state security minister, as saying voters gave the mandate to ZANU-PF to roll out and complete its massive black empowerment program that envisages taking over control of at least 1,100 businesses and companies that remain in the hands of foreign owners and 
the nation’s small white community.

Critics say few outside an elite of Mugabe party leaders and loyalists have benefited and many prime farms lie idle and several key blue-chip industries have gone into liquidation in the embattled economy.

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