HARARE, Zimbabwe – Raids on opposition party offices and the rounding up of foreign journalists are threatening to push Zimbabwe further toward confrontation between current President Robert Mugabe and the apparent winner of national elections.
Police raided the Meikles hotel, which is used by the opposition, Movement for Democratic Change, and ransacked some of the rooms. Riot police also surrounded another hotel housing foreign journalists, York Lodge, and took away several of them, according to a man who answered the phone there.
"Mugabe has started a crackdown," Movement for Democratic Change secretary-general Tendai Biti told The Associated Press. "It is quite clear he has unleashed a war."
The New York Times said that its correspondent Barry Bearak, who won a Pulitzer prize in 2002 for his coverage of daily life in war-torn Afghanistan, was taken into custody by police.
"An American consular official who visited him at the central police station reported that he was being held for 'violation of the journalism laws,'" said Bill Keller, executive editor of the Times, in a statement.
"We are making every effort to assure that he is well treated, and to secure his prompt release."
Zimbabwe lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said two journalists were jailed and told they would be charged Friday with practicing journalism without licenses. She said the other three were released.
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Biti said the raid at the Meikles Hotel targeted "certain people ... including myself." Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was "safe" but canceled plans for a news conference, he said.
Sky News reported that two foreign journalists were arrested for covering the election without accreditation.
"I can confirm that we have arrested two reporters at York Lodge for practicing without accreditation," said spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena, who told Sky News that police would identify them on Friday.
Biti said Thursday's clampdown was a sign of worse to follow but that the opposition would not go into hiding.
"You can't hide away from fascism. Zimbabwe is a small country. So we are not going into hiding. We are just going to have to be extra cautious," he said.
Committee to Protect Journalists Executive Director Joel Simon said the group was alarmed by the reports Thursday. "In light of the political situation, it is imperative that all journalists, foreign and domestic, be allowed to work freely," he said.
Independent observers say their own projection based on results posted at a representative sample of polling stations showed that Tsvangirai won the most votes in Saturday's election, but not enough to avoid a runoff.
Mugabe's Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said Mugabe was ready for a runoff, dashing hopes that he would bow quietly off the national stage he has dominated for 28 years.
"This is politics. The game is still on," Matonga told Sky News. "We are going to fight. We are going to fight big."
"We will make sure we defend the games of independence," he continued. "There is no panic. There are no cracks in ZANU-PF. We're taking this in our stride."
On Thursday, Mugabe was shown on state television meeting African Union election observers, his first public appearance since Saturday's elections.
A commission member indicated presidential results would be announced Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. But that was before the commission announced that Thursday's expected announcement of senate results was delayed because of "logistical problems."
The commission said it still was receiving ballot boxes from the provinces, raising questions about where those votes had been since the elections amid charges of a plot to rig the results. Western election observers have accused Mugabe of stealing previous elections.
International concern mounted about the continuing delays.
"We still have not seen the important thing, which is real live election results," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey. "We need to see an official tally, see it soon and have assurances made that this is actually a correct counting of the votes."
"Delays raise serious questions in our minds about what is going on in the vote counting," he said.
Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan said the continuing delays were dangerous. He urged the government and the electoral commission to scrupulously observe the electoral law and "to declare the election results faithfully and accurately."
"We live in an open world today and indeed the eyes of the world are on Zimbabwe, on its Electoral Commission, on its President. I urge them to do the right thing, to respect the Constitution and to obey the electoral laws. The election results should be released now," he said.
Mugabe has ruled since his guerrilla army helped force an end to white minority rule in then-Rhodesia and bring about an independent Zimbabwe in 1980.
He ordered the often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms, ostensibly to return them to the landless black majority. Instead, Mugabe replaced a white elite with a black one, giving the farms to relatives, friends and cronies who allowed cultivated fields to be taken over by weeds.
Today, a third of the population depends on imported food handouts. Another third has fled the country and 80 percent is jobless. Inflation is the highest in the world at more than 100,000 percent and people suffer crippling shortages of food, water, electricity, fuel and medicine. Life expectancy has fallen from 60 to 35 years.
Sky News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.