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Bush calls Zimbabwe's runoff vote 'a sham'

Mugabe's party says it expects a massive win in the one-candidate election. U.S. warns of new sanctions.

June 29, 2008|By a Times Staff Writer

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — As President Robert Mugabe's party said Saturday that it was poised for massive victory in Zimbabwe's one-candidate presidential runoff, President Bush called the vote "a sham election that ignored the will of the people" and warned of new sanctions.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the race a week before the vote because of intensifying political violence against supporters of his opposition Movement for Democratic Change, but the Mugabe government ignored international pressure to postpone the poll.

No details of Friday's voting were announced Saturday, but results were expected today. Mugabe's inauguration is expected soon after the results are known, as early as today, before he flies to an African Union summit in Egypt.

The ruling ZANU-PF party claimed a massive turnout, but African observers said the number of voters was low. The state-owned Herald said Mugabe was poised for a massive win.

Mugabe ignored unprecedented pressure from the international community to postpone the election. He faced scathing criticism from African leaders, including former South African President Nelson Mandela; Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa's African National Congress; and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Mugabe came under further pressure Saturday when the East African Community, made up of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, said the one-candidate election could not resolve the country's crisis.

Bush called for strong international action against top regime officials and was sharply critical of the political violence during the campaign, which saw 85 opposition activists killed and more than 3,000 injured.

"I am instructing the secretaries of State and Treasury to develop sanctions against this illegitimate government of Zimbabwe and those who support it," Bush said in a statement Saturday.

"We will press for strong action by the United Nations, including an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and travel ban on regime officials," Bush said. "The international community has condemned the Mugabe regime's ruthless campaign of politically motivated violence and intimidation with a strong and unified voice that makes clear that yesterday's election was in no way free and fair."

Mugabe, 84, has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, presiding over a catastrophic economic collapse, hyperinflation and 80% unemployment. Inflation is running in the millions of percent annually, according to independent economists.

The head of the Pan-African Parliament observer mission, Marwick Khumalo, told the Associated Press that people had been forced to vote in the runoff.

"There was a lot of intimidation for people to vote," Khumalo said. "You can tell people just wanted to get the indelible ink to protect themselves from the hooligans."

ZANU-PF militias had threatened to carry out door-to-door checks after polling to ensure that voters had pink ink on their fingers to prove they cast their ballots.

If declared the default winner, as expected, Mugabe will have to govern without a parliamentary majority.

In the March 29 elections, ZANU-PF lost its parliamentary majority for the first time, and Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the presidential race with about 48% compared with about 43%, according to official figures. The MDC says Tsvangirai won the first round outright with 50.3%.

Lacking a majority in parliament, the ruling party hopes to form a government of national unity, excluding Tsvangirai, in a bid to rebuild legitimacy and investor confidence.

ZANU-PF is expected to put massive pressure on a group of 11 lawmakers -- one independent and 10 from a breakaway MDC faction -- to join the government.

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