updated 5/1/2008 2:53:20 PM ET 2008-05-01T18:53:20

A runoff will be necessary to decide Zimbabwe's presidential election, a Cabinet minister said Thursday, citing the government's own election results.

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga's comments came a day after Zimbabwe's opposition rejected a runoff. That's despite a media report that the official tally — still not released more than a month after the vote — showed its candidate beat Mugabe, but not by enough to avoid a second round.

Matonga said Mugabe's party will take part in a runoff.

"As far as I'm concerned, there is going to be a runoff," Matonga told The Associated Press. "We have got our own results."

On Wednesday, CNN quoted an unidentified senior official with Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party as saying results from the March 29 election gave opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai 47 percent of the votes while Mugabe trailed with 43 percent.

Matonga would not say whether the CNN report was correct or give details about the figures he said the government has. But he said no one won the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a runoff.

Opposition leader says he won
Independent observers have been saying that Tsvangirai won the most votes, but not enough to avoid a runoff. Tsvangirai insists he won outright.

Individual polling stations have posted results, allowing parties and others to compile their own tallies while the nation awaits official results from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. Tsvangirai and rights groups have accused Mugabe of withholding the results to buy time to steal a runoff through intimidation or fraud.

Electoral commission officials said late Wednesday that no official results had been released and that party officials would not see them until the verification process, which began Thursday afternoon.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai sent representatives and independent candidate Simba Makoni himself attended. Journalists were allowed inside for only a few minutes as the process began, and were given no indication when it would be completed.

The opposition says a campaign of terror and violence since the first round of voting has left the movement in a disarray, with its main leaders staying out of the country for fear of arrest.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change said in a statement Thursday that 20 of its activists had been killed in the last month in postelection violence. Such figures have been difficult to verify. Independent rights groups in Zimbabwe have given more conservative tolls, but they also have said not all deaths have been reported.

In Johannesburg Wednesday, South Africa, Tsvangirai spokesman George Sibotshiwe reiterated that the opposition would not take part in a runoff because it believed only fraudulent results would deny Tsvangirai outright victory.

"If Robert Mugabe cannot accept the real results now, what's the guarantee he'll accept the real results after a runoff?" Sibotshiwe said.

Violence may taint a runoff
Independent rights groups also say postelection violence makes it unlikely a runoff could be free and fair.

The 84-year-old Mugabe, in power since Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980, has been accused of brutality and increasing autocracy.

But the main campaign issue for many here had been the economic collapse of what had once been a regional breadbasket.

A land reform campaign Mugabe launched in 2000 saw the often-violent seizure of farmland from whites. The key agriculture sector was devastated.

Mining, tourism and tobacco exports — once the three nation's biggest hard currency earners — reported massive losses in recent weeks. In the Reserve Bank's quarterly fiscal policy statement Wednesday, central bank governor Gideon Gono acknowledged that the government is virtually broke.

In his statement, Gono announced a new hard currency exchange rate he said would be set by banks in willing seller-willing buyer deals based on availability of hard currency that would draw money into the banking system from the dominant black market in hard currency.

He gave no indication of what the new rate might be, but currency dealers said it needed to approach the black market rate of about 100 million Zimbabwe dollars to $1.

Gono told business leaders and government officials at a briefing shown on state television that the central bank was relinquishing its monopoly on controlling hard currency inflows.

He said he did not abolish the official exchange rate of just 30,000 Zimbabwe dollars to the U.S. dollar but was allowing the market to determine another legal exchange rate.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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