HARARE, Zimbabwe – Widespread voter intimidation and low turnout marked Zimbabwe's one-candidate presidential runoff Friday, further damaging the vote designed to bolster longtime President Robert Mugabe's credibility.
Residents said they were forced to vote, threatened by violence, arson or roving bands of government supporters searching for those without an ink-stained finger.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who withdrew from the runoff citing a campaign of state-sponsored violence, said the results would "reflect only the fear of the people."
"What is happening today is not an election. It is an exercise in mass intimidation," he said at a news conference.
Dozens of opposition supporters have been killed and thousands of people injured prior to Friday's vote, which is expected only to deepen the nation's political and economic crisis.
Fear and intimidation contrasted with the excitement and hope for change that marked the first round of voting in March. Reporters and independent observers saw low turnout.
Paramilitary police in riot gear deployed in a central Harare park Friday, then began patrolling the city. Militant Mugabe supporters roamed the streets, singing revolutionary songs, heckling people and asking why they were not voting.
"I've got no option but to go and vote so that I can be safe," explained a young woman selling tomatoes.
A gunman in civilian clothes was seen attacking a TV news cameraman and the voter he was interviewing on a Harare street, then forcing them into a police vehicle. In addition, two Zimbabwean freelance journalists were detained by police Friday as they waited to watch Mugabe vote at a Harare polling station.
Hundreds of journalists, mainly from Western media organizations, have been banned from covering Zimbabwe's elections.
World leaders roundly condemned the vote. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking at a meeting in Japan, called the vote a "sham," and said the United States would use its position as president of the U.N. Security Council until July 1 to drive international condemnation of Mugabe's regime.
"Those operating in Zimbabwe should know that there are those ... who believe that the Security Council should consider sanctions," she said. "We intend to bring up the issue of Zimbabwe in the council. We will see what the council decides to do."
EU spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy said the election's result will be "hollow and meaningless."
Mugabe, who has been president since independence in 1980, is believed to want a large turnout so he can claim an overwhelmingly victory over Tsvangirai, whose name remained on the ballot because electoral officials say his withdrawal Sunday came too late.
Election observers said Zimbabweans were being forced to the polls and were too frightened to talk.
"Some of them are saying 'We were told to come here,"' Pan African Parliament spokesman Khalid A. Dahab told The Associated Press. "It's just not normal. There's a lot of tension."
Mugabe appeared jovial as he voted Friday in Harare. When a reporter asked how the 84-year-old president was feeling, he replied "very fit, very optimistic, upbeat and hungry."
Assistant Police Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena told state radio that the number of police at polling stations had been doubled to "guarantee peace and security." He had no reports of violence by midmorning, but said any violence would be met with "the full force of the law."
People were staying off the streets in Zimbabwe's second main city of Bulawayo, an opposition stronghold. Rights activist Dusani Ncube said he went to 10 polling stations and found that only two people voted.
Abel Chikomo of the independent Zimbabwe Media Monitoring Project in Bulawayo, said: "There are more queues at bars than at polling stations. People know the election is a farce."
But Ncube said he had received news from rural areas outside Bulawayo that people had been told to vote or their homes would be burned.
In an e-mail voting day message, Tsvangirai said he expected voters to be threatened, to be told to record their ballot numbers and to be filmed as they voted. He advised them not to resist.
"God knows what is in your heart. Don't risk your lives," the opposition leader wrote from the Dutch Embassy, where he has sought refuge.
In middle-class Greendale suburb, Eunice Maboreke came out of a polling station but would not reveal her choice.
"My vote is my secret," she told a reporter.
One resident, Livingstone Gwaze, said he voted for Mugabe.
"Things will get better. There is darkness before light," he said.
Another man refused to give his name but held up his ink-stained finger to show he had voted. Mugabe party militants were reportedly checking for the ink stain and considering those without it to be opposition supporters.
Riot police and regular officers kept up their roadblocks on approaches to the South African Embassy in Harare, apparently to keep any more opposition members from fleeing there to escape election-related violence. At least 200 people were already at the embassy, many camping with blankets and bundles of belongings in the embassy parking lot.
Foreign ministers from the powerful Group of Eight — the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Russia and Canada — closed a two-day meeting in Japan with a joint statement deploring "the actions of the Zimbabwean authorities ... which have made a free and fair presidential runoff election impossible."
And Zimbabwe was the topic of lengthy, closed-door discussions Friday in Egypt among foreign ministers gathered ahead of an African Union summit that begins Monday — and that Mugabe has said he will attend.
Some AU members say the runoff shouldn't have been held, while others, such as regional powerhouse South Africa, refuse to publicly criticize Mugabe even on that point.
"Our position is that the parties in Zimbabwe should work together for the future of Zimbabwe," South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told Associated Press Television News.
Earlier this week, Tsvangirai had told reporters talks would be impossible if Mugabe went ahead with the vote. On Friday, Tsvangirai said he still hoped for talks mediated by African leaders to work on a transition to democracy for his homeland.
"We are ready to negotiate, but who do we negotiate with? Mugabe will be illegitimate, and how can we be expected to negotiate a government of national unity with him?" he said.
Tsvangirai was first in a field of four in the March vote, an embarrassment to Mugabe. But the official tally said he did not gain the votes necessary to avoid a runoff against Mugabe. Tsvangirai's party and its allies also won control of parliament in March, dislodging Mugabe's party for the first time since independence in 1980.
Mugabe was once hailed as a post-independence leader committed to development and reconciliation. But in recent years, he has been accused of ruining the economy and holding onto power through fraud and intimidation.
The official inflation rate was put at 165,000 percent by the government in February, but independent estimates put the real figure closer to 4 million percent.
Since the first round of national elections, shortages of basic goods have worsened, public services have come to virtual standstill, and power and water outages have continued daily.