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.
Meanwhile, militant supporters of the ruling party invaded five of the few remaining white-owned commercial farms Sunday, driving three cattle ranchers off their land and seizing equipment and livestock, the farmers reported — another sign that Mugabe plans to use violence to stay in power.
A crew from state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. was filming the siege of one farm where about 50 militants were threatening to break through the farm gates, making it appear the land grabs were orchestrated. They all occurred in the southern Masvingo district.
The Movement for Democratic Change — which claims its leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the March 29 presidential ballot outright — said it would not accept a re-count, did not want a runoff and pressed ahead with legal attempts to force the publication of the results.
"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.
Opposition party lawyer Andrew Makoni said a high court judge was expected to rule at 2 p.m. (1200 GMT) on an urgent petition demanding publication of the election results.
He said the judge had only just received the submission from the electoral commission justifying the delay and needed time to consider it.
Armed police prevented opposition lawyers from entering the court on Saturday but there was no police presence Sunday.
The Movement for Democratic Change maintained its resistance to a runoff.
"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. Some 5,000 farms were seized and about 300 white farmers remain on the land.
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.
The government banned most foreign journalists from covering the elections and barred Western election observers.
Several foreign journalists, including Barry Bearak of the New York Times, remained in custody Sunday after being charged with "illegally observing an election without official accreditation," according to their lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa. She said the offense carried a maximum penalty of a fine and/or two years in prison.
The journalists were charged Friday under Zimbabwe's media laws, but this was dropped after the attorney-general said it was without foundation. But instead of releasing them, police charged them with the same offense, but under the electoral law.
Mtetwa said she was filing an urgent application for the release of the journalists, who are being held at Harare's central police station.
Asked how they were, Mtetwa replied: "As well as you can be in that filthy place."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
APTV 04-06-08 1043EDT