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Zimbabwean officials begin recount for 23 parliament seats
A Zimbabwean police officer walks in a corridor stacked with ballot boxes at a command center in Murombedzi, about 100 kms west of Harare, Zimbabwe Saturday April 19, 2008. Officials began recounting ballots for a couple of dozen legislative seats Saturday, an exercise that could overturn the Zimbabwean opposition's landmark victory. The ruling party is challenging the count in 23 constituencies, most won by the opposition, including in Mugabe's home district of Zvimba. An opposition attempt to stop the re-count was blocked in court Friday. Earlier this week, a Zimbabwe court rejected an opposition appeal for the immediate release of the presidential results. - photo by Associated Press
    HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s main opposition party said Saturday it feared its parliamentary election victory was being stolen, while former U.N. chief Kofi Annan urged African leaders to step in and resolve the country’s election crisis.
    Zimbabweans are still awaiting results of the presidential election held three weeks ago alongside parliamentary voting. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai claims he won outright and that the delay in reporting results is part of a fraud plot.
    Now the opposition’s landmark victory in the parliamentary vote is being called into question. Electoral officials on Saturday began recounting ballots for nearly two dozen legislative seats, which could overturn the Zimbabwean opposition’s landmark majority win in the parliamentary poll.
    Most of the seats being recounted had been declared for opposition candidates, including in President Robert Mugabe’s home district of Zvimba.
    State-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. reported the recount would take as many as three days.
    Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change said in a statement Saturday it had ‘‘learnt with disgust’’ that a number of ballot boxes arriving at recount centers were ‘‘without seals.’’ It called the recount a ‘‘rogue and flawed process.’’
    The opposition also reported that four more supporters had died in attacks they attributed to Mugabe loyalists, bringing the number of reported deaths of activists to 10.
    ‘‘Rural areas have been made no go areas and defenseless people have been forced to flee their homes and are sleeping in the mountains but the police are not taking any action despite the international community being fully aware of what is happening,’’ the party said in a statement.
    New York-based Human Rights Watch charged Saturday that ‘‘torture and violence are surging in Zimbabwe,’’ citing victims and eyewitnesses. It said the ruling party was setting up ‘‘torture camps to systematically target, beat, and torture people suspected of having voted for the MDC in last month’s elections.’’
    But Mugabe has accused others of plotting violence, and signaled Friday there could be more.
    ‘‘We know some people are planning that there will be places where there will be violence, with people burning shops and cars,’’ he said. ‘‘Those who are planning this, please stop it immediately, otherwise you are going to be in serious trouble with us.’’
    Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general from Ghana who helped broke a peace deal after contested elections in Kenya, questioned whether leaders on the continent have done enough to help find a solution in Zimbabwe.
    ‘‘Where are the Africans? Where are the leaders and the countries in the region? What are they doing? How can they help resolve the situation? It is a rather dangerous situation,’’ Annan told journalists in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
    ‘‘It’s a serious crisis that will impact beyond Zimbabwe and we do have a responsibility to work with them to find a viable solution,’’ Annan said, adding that he had met with MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti on Friday.
    Earlier Saturday in Zvimba, Mugabe’s home district about 60 miles southwest of Harare, officials excluded reporters as the recount began in the presence of party officials as well as local and regional observers. The state-owned Herald newspaper quoted officials of the Southern African Development Community as saying it had sent 50 monitors.
    Reporters got glimpses of one room where ballot boxes were being kept under armed guard.
    Meanwhile, a Chinese ship carrying weapons destined for Zimbabwe left South African waters with South African media reports saying Saturday it was headed for Mozambique or Angola. An independent human rights group monitoring the vessel warned that any country which allows the arms to be transferred to Zimbabwe would be violating international law.
    The An Yue Jiang left Durban harbor early Friday evening soon after a court ordered that there could be no movement of the cargo or the ship itself.
    On Friday, South African port and truck workers said they would refuse to offload the weapons, and several prominent South Africans called on their government to block the transfer of the arms to Zimbabwe. South African President Thabo Mbeki is under pressure to take a harder line on Zimbabwe. Mbeki has argued that Mugabe is unlikely to respond to a confrontational approach.
    Associated Press Writer Tom Maliti in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.

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