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Zimbabwe opposition leader says vote was stolen by Mnangagwa

Nelson Chamisa declared a ‘day of mourning for democracy’ and claimed the vote was rigged.

Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Nelson Chamisa has said President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s election win was fraudulent, and claimed the vote was “stolen from the people”.

The closely-watched elections began with a peaceful vote on Monday, but turned deadly 48 hours later when the military fired on protesters, with six people killed.

On Friday morning three truckloads of police bearing shields and batons tried to disperse about 100 local and international members of the press gathered to hear Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Mr Chamisa speak in a Harare hotel.

With cameras recording their every move, the police eventually pulled back, allowing Mr Chamisa to denounce Mr Mnangagwa’s victory.

Mr Chamisa asserted: “We won this election,” adding that vote-rigging had given Mr Mnangagwa victory. He declared “a day of mourning for democracy”.

The MDC leader, who received more than 44% of the vote, alleged violence and harassment against his supporters and manipulation of the election results. He said his opposition party has evidence of vote-rigging but that the electoral commission “didn’t want to listen to us”.

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Riot police enter the Bronte hotel (AP)

The president responded by saying people are free to approach the courts if they have issues with the results of the poll, which he carried with just over 50% of the vote.

Mr Mnangagwa also praised the result as free and fair, despite the opposition concerns and those of international election observers who noted the “extreme bias” of state media and the “excessive” use of force when the military cracked down on opposition protesters in the capital on Wednesday.

The president is also looking forward to his inauguration, saying that under the constitution it should happen nine days after election results are declared.

There was a subdued reaction to Mr Mnangagwa’s win, marked by the apprehension that remained in Harare after the army rolled in with tanks on Wednesday to disperse demonstrators who denounced the president and alleged vote-rigging in the country’s first vote following the downfall of long-time leader Robert Mugabe.

The military were not visible on Harare’s streets on Friday. Water cannon and police remained present, however, at the headquarters of the main opposition party, a day after authorities raided it and made 18 arrests.

Zanu-PF leader Mr Mnangagwa, Robert Mugabe’s former enforcer and confidante, said he was “humbled” by the victory and in a Twitter post urged Zimbabweans to stay peaceful.

The opposition said it will challenge in court the results of the election.

Mr Chamisa said on Twitter that “unverified fake results” had been announced by the electoral commission. The commission “must release proper & verified results endorsed by parties,” he tweeted.

“The level of opaqueness, truth deficiency, moral decay & values deficit is baffling.”

In a brief moment of drama shortly before the commission announced the winner in Friday’s early hours, two agents for Mr Chamisa’s MDC took to the stage and told waiting journalists that they “totally reject” the results and said they had not signed them as required, in protest.

Police escorted them from the room.

The week’s events left many Zimbabweans with a sense of unease and questions about how different Mr Mnangagwa is from his predecessor Mr Mugabe, who stepped down in November under military pressure amid a ruling party feud after 37 years in power.

The 75-year-old Mr Mnangagwa has tried to recast himself as a voice of change, declaring that the once-prosperous Zimbabwe is “open for business” and inviting the Western election observers who for years had been banned by Mr Mugabe.

If this election is judged to be credible, it will be a big step toward the lifting of international sanctions on this southern African nation whose economy has long collapsed and whose reputation has suffered after years of repression of the opposition and vote rigging.

So far, international observers have given a mixed reaction, calling Monday’s election peaceful and a break from the past, but expressing grave concern about the military’s “excessive” use of force.

They criticised the delay in releasing the results of the presidential vote, saying it raised concerns about possible manipulation.

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