HARARE, Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe's ruling party demanded a vote recount — and a further delay in the release of results from Zimbabwe's presidential election, the state Sunday Mail newspaper reported, prompting outrage from the opposition party.
The Movement for Democratic Change — which claims its leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the March 29 presidential ballot outright — said it will not accept a recount.
"How do you have a vote recount for a result that has not been announced? That is ridiculous," said opposition spokesman Nelson Chamisa.
He accused the ruling ZANU-PF party of vote fraud, saying that police have told opposition leaders that the ruling party has been tampering with ballots since early last week.
"These claims are totally unfounded and they are only meant to justify ZANU-PF's rigging," he said. The Sunday Mail quoted a letter from a lawyer representing ZANU-PF calling for a recount because of "errors and miscalculations in the compilation of the poll result."
The party also asked the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to defer announcement of the presidential election results because of the "anomalies," the paper reported.
The report came a day after Tsvangirai called on Mugabe to step down and accused the country's longtime ruler of plotting a campaign of violence to bolster his chances of winning an expected runoff.
Eight days after the election, the commission has yet to announce the results. Unofficial tallies by independent monitors show Tsvangirai won more votes than Mugabe — but fewer than the 50 percent plus one vote required to avoid a runoff.
On Saturday, armed police barred lawyers and opposition officials from entering the High Court to pursue a hearing on an urgent petition they had filed demanding publication of the results. The opposition promised to try again Sunday, and maintained its resistance to a runoff vote.
"We are not going to accept the so-called runoff. It is going to be a 'run-over' of Zimbabwe. People are going to be killed," Chamisa said. "We are not so naive a leadership to lead our people to slaughter."
Tsvangirai on Saturday stopped short of saying the party would boycott any runoff. But he voiced concerns that the state would mobilize the armed forces, feared youth brigades and war veterans to terrorize voters into supporting Mugabe.
He said ZANU-PF was "preparing a war against the people."
Mugabe has been accused of winning previous elections through violence and intimidation. Scores of opponents were killed during the 2002 and 2005 campaigns.
The law requires a runoff within 21 days of the initial election, but diplomats in Harare and at the United Nations say Mugabe may order a 90-day delay to give security forces time to clamp down.
"Mugabe must accept that the country needs to move forward. He cannot hold the country to ransom. He is the problem not the solution," said Tsvangirai, who appealed to African leaders and the U.N. to intervene to "prevent chaos and dislocation."
Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga dismissed fears of violence as "a lot of nonsense."
Mugabe, 84, has ruled here since his guerrilla army helped overthrow white minority rule in 1980. His popularity has been battered by an economic collapse following the often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms since 2000.
A third of the population has fled the country and 80 percent are jobless. Inflation is raging at more than 100,000 percent.
Official results for parliamentary elections held alongside the presidential race showed Mugabe's ZANU-PF losing its majority in the 210-seat parliament for the first time in the country's history. Final results for the 60 elected seats in the senate gave the ruling party and the opposition 30 seats each.
Several foreign journalists detained by police remained in custody Sunday after lawyers said they were blocked from submitting an application for their release.
An employee of U.S.-based National Democratic Institute who was detained Thursday as he tried to leave the country was supposed to report to police Sunday. He was released from jail but his passport was confiscated, the group said.
Two South Africans also remain in custody on charges of reporting illegally, said Beatrice Mtetwa, a lawyer representing those arrested. She said she planned to try again Sunday to apply to courts for the release of journalists.
The government had banned most foreign journalists from covering the elections and barred Western election observers.