HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Sunday warned his main rival Morgan Tsvangirai that he would be arrested if he claimed victory before official results were announced in an election this week.
In his final campaign rally ahead of a presidential and parliamentary vote on Wednesday, Mugabe said his ZANU-PF party was confident of victory, which would extend his three decades in power.
But he expressed concern that Tsvangirai, who is making a third run at the presidency, had threatened not to wait for official results from the electoral authorities.
Tsvangirai told his own Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)supporters at the weekend that although ZANU-PF was trying to rig the elections, he expected an overwhelming victory and did not have to wait for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
On Sunday, Mugabe dismissed Tsvangirai's charges of ZANU-PF vote rigging as unfounded complaints of a "political cry baby" staring at inevitable defeat, warning him to respect laws giving only the ZEC the power to announce results.
"I can tell you in advance that if you breach the law and become a law breaker, the police will arrest you," he said to cheers from thousands of supporters at a stadium in Harare.
In 2008, the election commission announced presidential election results after five weeks, which showed Tsvangirai had beaten Mugabe but not by enough votes to avoid a run-off.
His MDC said ZEC had cooked the figures to keep Mugabe in office, and Tsvangirai went on to occupy the prime minister's post in a power-sharing government.
Tsvangirai will address his last major rally on Monday.
TIGHT RACE SEEN
Mugabe, 89, is seeking to extend his 33-year hold on power after leading the former Rhodesia to independence from Britain in 1980 and surviving his party's loss to the MDC.
Although both Mugabe and Tsvangirai have been predicting that they would win the July 31 contest by huge margins, political analysts say it could be a tight race in which Mugabe's control of the electoral machinery might prove the decisive element.
On Sunday, the veteran Zimbabwean leader - who denies he has been receiving treatment for prostate cancer in Singapore over the last few years - said he deserved re-election to continue a black economic empowerment drive opposed by the MDC.
"Tsvangirai and his MDC are shameless Western puppets, created by the West, funded and controlled by the West, and I urge you to reject them once and for all in these elections," he said, repeating charges he makes often about his rivals but which the MDC strongly denies.
Mugabe jokingly said he would suffer heart failure if the capital Harare, an MDC stronghold in which ZANU-PF won just one of the 29 parliamentary seats in the 2008 elections, backed Tsvangirai again at the polls.
This year's short election campaign period has been largely free of the violence that has marred previous polls.
But the MDC accuses ZANU-PF of rigging the July 31 polls in its favor through a shambolic voters' register and a refusal to open up the media to all sides or to restrain security forces from active politics.
Mugabe was driven around Harare's main stadium on Sunday, waving at supporters from the back of a truck surrounded by heavily armed security men, some with automatic rifles.
Despite his age and fears that his health is failing, Mugabe has said ZANU-PF would fight like a "wounded beast" to retain power after being forced into a compromise unity government after the contested 2008 election outcome.
That vote took place amid a severe economic crisis, with hyperinflation of more than 500 billion percent and food shortages, many of which were blamed on Mugabe's policies.
The crisis has eased under the power-sharing government, but the recovery is fragile and the MDC says Zimbabwe will not realize its full potential if ZANU-PF retains power.
The security establishment has emerged as Mugabe's power base, with security chiefs publicly backing Mugabe in elections while suggesting they would not allow Tsvangirai to take power.
(Reporting By Cris Chinaka; Editing by Tosin Sulaiman and Mike Collett-White)
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