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Zimbabwe opposition appears set to retain parliament gains

SHARE Zimbabwe opposition appears set to retain parliament gains

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe's opposition appeared set to retain its gains in parliament Saturday, as international pressure mounted for the release of results from the presidential vote that longtime leader Robert Mugabe is believed to have lost.

Mugabe has been accused of using delays, fraud and violence to hold onto power. Even if he retains the presidency, he will have to deal with a defiant parliament.

Early results showed his party losing control of parliament for the first time since independence in 1980. His regime reacted by calling for recounts in 23 seats, but so far, the recounts have only confirmed the original tallies.

On Saturday, the electoral commission confirmed the results in 10 disputed parliamentary votes: six seats were taken by the opposition and four by Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

Original results from the March 29 election showed that opposition groups won 110 seats to Mugabe's 97. Three seats are vacant, awaiting by-elections after the deaths of candidates.

The electoral commission also said Saturday that the long-awaited presidential results would be released in the coming days, unless any of the tallies were challenged.

The opposition and an independent Zimbabwean observer group say the opposition also won the presidential race, basing their conclusions on their own surveys of results posted at individual polling stations.

On Friday, security forces raided the offices of the opposition and the independent observers, seizing materials related to the count.

Police confirmed Saturday that they arrested 215 people in a raid on opposition headquarters in Harare. They also said they searched the offices of the observer group, the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network, looking for evidence that the Western-funded organization bribed state election officials to rig polling results.

The opposition said those arrested were seeking refuge after being attacked by ruling party loyalists in the countryside.

Human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama said among those detained were 24 children, "some still suckling."

There had been reports of beatings of those being held in various police stations across the city, he said. They have not been charged with any offenses.

Human rights groups and independent religious groups say hundreds of opposition supporters have been abducted, tortured and assaulted in recent weeks in a violent crackdown on dissent.

Meanwhile, America's top envoy on Africa was in the region rallying support for democracy in Zimbabwe. Jendayi Frazer on Saturday left Angola, seen as an ally of Mugabe, for Zambia, whose president has been unusually critical of his Zimbabwean counterpart.

She called for regional leaders to press for an end to intimidation of Zimbabweans by security forces in the country, and to work together and with the United States to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, a Mugabe loyalist, criticized Frazer for her statements earlier in the week backing claims that Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the presidential vote, Zimbabwean state media reported Saturday.

Chinamasa called Frazer's remarks "patently false, inflammatory, irresponsible and uncalled-for." Though presidential results had not been completed, tallies posted outside polling stations "point to a runoff" between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, the state Herald reported.

"More than anything else, Frazer's comments expose Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC for what they are — an Anglo-American project designed to defeat and reverse the gains of Zimbabwe's liberation struggle ... and return the nation to the dark days of white domination," Chinamasa said.

Next week the U.N. Security Council will get a briefing on the situation in Zimbabwe from the U.N. Secretariat, South Africa, the current council president, said Friday. South Africa had opposed including Zimbabwe on the agenda of recent special Security Council discussions it hosted on Africa.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has been mediating the Zimbabwe crisis with a quiet approach that has been criticized, insisting that confronting Mugabe could backfire.

In Britain on Saturday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a statement condemning violence in Zimbabwe and Friday's arrests at opposition headquarters. At the planned Security Council meeting, he said Britain would "press for a UN mission to investigate the violence and human rights abuses."

"We are supporting an arms moratorium until a democratic government is in place. And if there is a second round, the international community will insist that there are international monitors deployed" and regional principles on democracy upheld, he said.