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Zimbabwes ruling party declares presidential runoff, charges opposition bribed officials
ZIMBABWE ELECTIONS 5280630
Council workers remove the campaign posters of President Robert Mugabe in Harare, Zimbabwe Friday, April, 4, 2008. Intruders ransacked offices of the main opposition party and police detained foreign journalists in an ominous sign that President Robert Mugabe might turn to intimidation and violence in trying to stave off an electoral threat to his 28-year rule. - photo by Associated Press
    HARARE, Zimbabwe — A presidential runoff between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai appeared certain Friday after the ruling party said it had agreed to a second round.
    Party secretary and Minister of State Didymus Mutasa also charged that the opposition bribed electoral officials and said his party would contest the results of 16 parliamentary seats.
    ‘‘We agreed to have a rerun at a date to be set by’’ the electoral commission, Mutasa said at a news conference after a five-hour party politburo meeting, the first since official results showed ZANU-PF had lost control of parliament in weekend elections.
    The law requires a runoff within 21 days of the first round. But diplomats in Harare and at the United Nations said Mugabe was planning to declare a 90-day delay to give security forces time to clamp down.
    While official presidential election results have not yet been released, independent observers had projected a runoff, saying Tsvangirai won the most votes, but not the 50 percent plus one vote necessary for an outright victory.
    The opposition, which went to court Friday to force the electoral commission to release results, had claimed to have won the presidency outright, but also said it would contest a runoff if one was ordered.
    State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters Friday that ‘‘people can claim anything they want about the results and about whether those results will then indicate or make necessary a runoff.
    ‘‘The Zimbabwe election commission has continued to fail in its duties and fail the Zimbabwean people by not immediately providing the results of the presidential vote,’’ Casey said. ‘‘The longer they delay in this process, the more suspicious it becomes.’’
    Earlier Friday, police escorted about 400 war veterans as they paraded silently through downtown Harare. The feared veterans in the bush war that helped end white minority rule are used to intimidate opposition supporters and spearheaded the often violent takeover of white farms in recent years.
    At a news conference, Jabulani Sibanda, head of the Zimbabwe War Veterans’ Association, said ZANU-PF lost the elections because ‘‘people were pushed by hunger and illegal sanctions. Under current circumstances the spirit of our people is being provoked. We will be forced to defend our sovereignty.’’
    Also Friday, outspoken Mugabe critic Lovemore Madhuku, who in the past has suffered police beatings and an arson attack on his home, urged Zimbabweans to ‘‘defend their vote.’’
    Madhuku called on Zimbabweans ‘‘not to give in to any form of intimidation, any form of violence ... that would be used to stop change or to steal the vote.’’
    Zimbabwe’s opposition party filed an urgent suit late Friday, asking the courts to force the release of the presidential results, according to party spokesman Nelson Chamisa.
    Chamisa said the delay in reporting results had resulted in ‘‘a lot of anxiety being created among the (opposition), the nation at large and the international community.’’ He said a hearing was expected Saturday.
    The opposition has been weakened by internal divisions. But Friday, a splinter faction said divisions weren’t an issue should there be a runoff.
    ‘‘Whatever formation is there to remove Mugabe, we are there to support it,’’ said Abednico Bhebhe, spokesman for the Arthur Mutambara faction of the MDC.
    On Thursday, the Movement for Democratic Change said that Mugabe has ‘‘unleashed a war’’ in his bid to stay in power after party offices were raided and foreign journalists detained.
    ‘‘Mugabe has started a crackdown,’’ MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti told The Associated Press, saying rooms used as offices by the opposition at a Harare hotel were ransacked Thursday by intruders he believed were either police or agents of the feared Central Intelligence Organization.
    The journalists, meanwhile, were detained by heavily armed riot police who surrounded and entered a Harare hotel frequented by foreign reporters, lawyers said. The U.S.-based National Democratic Institute added one of its staff, an American, was detained by authorities at Harare’s airport as he tried to leave the country Thursday.
    The government had rejected most foreign journalists’ applications to cover the elections, and had barred Western election observers.
    Casey, the State Department spokesman, told reporters that four Americans had been detained by Zimbabwean authorities on Thursday. Casey said Friday that U.S. officials had been in contact with the two Americans still detained. He said he could only give limited details because of privacy concerns.
    Lawyer Harrison Nkomo said the attorney general had said there was no case against two foreign journalists and that is was up to police to release them or put new charges to them. He said two of his colleagues were at the Harare central police station ‘‘to facilitate their release.’’
    Mugabe has ruled since his guerrilla army helped force an end to white minority rule and bring about an independent Zimbabwe in 1980. His popularity has been battered by an economic freefall that followed the often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms in 2000.
    Zimbabwean authorities on Friday introduced a new 50-million bank note, state media reported. The new Zimbabwe dollar note is worth $1 at the widely used black market trading and can buy just three loaves of bread.