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Observer calls Zimbabwe vote recount 'flawed'

/ Source: The Associated Press

A South African observer denounced the recount of 23 contested parliamentary seats from last month's election as "fatally flawed" on Monday as state media reported that the process might drag on all week and rights groups reported more violence in troubled Zimbabwe.

Soldiers were running riot in Harare's densely packed suburbs, beating people at random, one rights group said. Troops are assaulting some residents spotted outside their homes after 6 p.m. — effectively enforcing a curfew in certain areas, the Crisis in Zimbabwe coalition said.

One group of soldiers descended on a shopping center Saturday evening, it said. The group also released photos of an alleged assault on Mathew Takaona, president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, by 10 troops.

More than three weeks after the March 29 elections, the results of the presidential vote have not been released — and the outcome of the parliamentary ballot remains in limbo, with state-run media reporting that a pivotal partial recount could take all week.

Results still delayed
Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, maintains he won the presidential race outright, but independent observers believe he fell just short of the majority.

Tsvangirai appealed Monday to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for help as the two met for about half an hour in Ghana's capital, Accra, where the U.N. chief is attending a trade conference.

Tsvangirai asked Ban "for an intervention by the African Union and the United Nations since he feels there is no progress in the efforts made by the Southern African Development Community," U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

Ban "appealed once more for the release of the electoral results as soon as possible and said that he would consult the president of the African Union on possible ways forward," Montas told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.

"The secretary-general reiterated his deep concern that the situation still has not been resolved, as well as his concern about the reported violence," she said.

Montas said she didn't know when Ban would speak to Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete, whose country heads the African Union.

African leaders asked to intervene
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called on fellow African leaders to intervene, accusing President Robert Mugabe of unleashing a campaign of violence in a bid to steal the country's elections with a "charade of democracy."

"It is important that African leaders do more to engage directly in this crisis to help resolve it," Miliband said in a statement issued Monday by his office in London. "Ordinary Africans do not condone the way in which President Mugabe is clinging to power and beating his own people to death to ensure he retains it."

The Movement for Democratic Change says 10 supporters have been killed, 400 arrested and 500 injured in postelection violence. It is impossible to verify the figures because of reporting restrictions.

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga dismissed claims that the government is arming vigilante groups.

"There is nothing of the sort. These are imaginary vigilantes," he told South African radio.

For the first time in Mugabe's 28-year rule, the opposition defeated Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party in the first count of last month's parliamentary vote.

But electoral officials began recounting ballots Saturday for 23 legislative seats, most won by opposition candidates, and the ZANU-PF party needs just nine seats to reclaim a majority.

Recount could take a week
On Monday, the state-run Herald newspaper reported that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission needs longer than the three days originally envisaged for the partial recount, and could take all week.

Utloile Silaigwana, a deputy chief elections officer, told the paper the delay was mainly due to party agents "raising issues which they would want attended to and clarified."

Observer Dianne Kohler-Barnard, a lawmaker with South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance, called the entire recounting process "futile."

"From what I have seen and experienced in Zimbabwe over the last three days, it is clear that the process of recounting the contested wards from the recent elections is fatally flawed," she said.

"Of particular concern was the evidence of ballot box tampering that I witnessed personally, which points to a concerted effort to rig the election results in order to bring about a Mugabe 'victory,'" she said in a statement issued by her office in South Africa.

Kohler-Barnard said the process was marred by delays and administrative problems.

Specific irregularities cited
"The repeated miscommunication of venue addresses meant that party agents and electoral observers were frequently posted to the incorrect venue, thus undermining the observation process and contributing to further delays in the recount," she said, listing specific instances of ballot box irregularities.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, the mediator on Zimbabwe, has refused to criticize the neighboring nation, but there are signs that his credibility is wearing thin even with other African leaders.

Jacob Zuma, president of the South Africa's ruling African National Congress, is due to hold talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Wednesday. Zuma, who is likely to be the next South African president, is less sympathetic to Mugabe than Mbeki.

Malawi's government calling on Mugabe to resume talks with his enemies: former colonizer Britain, white farmers and the opposition party.

Neighboring Mozambique won praise from civil rights activists by refusing to let a Chinese boat with arms for Zimbabwe's army dock last weekend. A South African court on Friday barred the weapons from being transported across South African territory. The vessel was believed headed toward Angola.