All eyes on Zim as ZEC wrap-up recount

By Cris Chinaka

Harare - Verification of Zimbabwe's disputed presidential election results is due to start on Tuesday, a month after the vote, and the country may learn within a week whether Robert Mugabe will remain in power.

Now that a partial recount has ended, candidates will begin vetting the official results that determine whether Mugabe will extend his nearly three decades in office or lose to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, an election official said.

The wait for the March 29 election result has led to a tense standoff and drawn opposition accusations that Mugabe is trying to rig the outcome.

A state newspaper, quoting a government statement, said on Tuesday one man was killed and two others were injured when opposition supporters tried to attack an army training camp. The Herald said Mugabe's government had said security forces would use "necessary and appropriate force" to deal with violence.

Police and MDC comment was not immediately available.

A win for Mugabe, whose ruling Zanu-PF party has lost control of parliament, would deepen the economic crisis in the once prosperous country, political analysts say.

But Western powers are likely to pour in aid and investment if victory goes to Tsvangirai, leader of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said recounting in five remaining constituencies had been completed.

"I'm getting the information that they are now collating the results, which will be available on Tuesday," spokesperson Utoile Silaigwana said on Monday.

During the verification process, candidates, their proxies and observers will compare official ZEC figures with those they have compiled themselves from polling stations. Only after all parties agree with the figures from the verification exercise can the ZEC announce a final result.

Verification could take up to a week because disputes about the results are likely to arise, Silaigwana said.

Zimbabweans had hoped the election would ease economic turmoil. Instead, severe food, fuel and foreign currency shortages are worsening and there are no signs an inflation rate of 165 000 percent - the world's highest - will ease.

Tsvangirai, who says he won an outright majority in the first round of voting and has rejected any run-off, urged the 84-year-old Mugabe to step down.

"Old man, go and have an honourable exit," Tsvangirai, 56, told a news conference in neighbouring South Africa.

Asked if he would take part in a run-off, he said: "The question of a run-off does not arise. The people have spoken."

Zanu-PF has lost control of parliament for the first time since Mugabe took office in 1980, weakening the hold of the former guerrilla leader who critics say has depended on heavy security crackdowns and an elaborate patronage system.

Parliament had been little more than a rubber-stamp for Mugabe's policies. But if he remains president, this loss of parliamentary control would make governing more difficult because he would need opposition support to pass legislation.

Zanu-PF accuses MDC members of carrying out attacks and working with Western powers to bring down Mugabe, once regarded as a leader who could transform the former British colony into a democratic and economic success story.

A United Nations Security Council briefing on the post-election crisis in Zimbabwe has been slated for Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Nelson Banya and MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare; Writing by Caroline Drees; Editing by Robert Woodward)

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