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Voting ends in Zimbabwe elections

Voting has concluded in most of Zimbabwe's polling stations in elections in which Robert Mugabe faced one of the biggest challenges to his 33-year grip on power.

A few polling stations were prepared to stay open into the night to accommodate all voters who were in line by 7pm. Vote counting is expected to begin later and final results are expected by Monday.

Zimbabweans voted in large numbers despite concerns about the credibility of the electoral process, and the vote was relatively peaceful compared to disputed and violent polls in 2008.

Thousands of voters lined up in Harare's populous Mbare township but by Wednesday evening all the voters had been accommodated, said polling officials. "It's a tremendous turnout," said Magodelyo Yeukai, Mbare presiding officer.

Polling officials and party agents brought blankets to polling stations so that they could sleep next to the polling boxes to make sure they were not tampered with.

Some election observers noted cases of registered voters being turned away from the polls. There have been worries about oversights in the hasty preparations for the vote, as well as fears of alleged vote-rigging of the kind that occurred in past elections.

Tendai Biti, the third-ranking official in the former opposition party of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe's popular challenger, reported alleged irregularities across several districts, including changes to voters' lists and ballot papers.

But "we are encouraged by the high turnout. We remain confident in spite of all these challenges," Mr Biti said.

The head of the African Union observer mission, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, said reports of irregularities "will be investigated but have not yet been substantiated".

Activists believe a big turnout is likely to favour Mr Tsvangirai, by blunting the impact of any manipulation of voters' rolls. Mr Mugabe, who barred Western observer missions, says allegations of vote-rigging amount to mudslinging by opponents.

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