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Zimbabwe opposition claims election win

President Robert Mugabe's government warns that premature victory claims would be seen as a 'coup.'

By Scott Baldauf – Staff Writer, a contributor / March 31, 2008

Police officers stand guard over ballot boxes in Zvimba, Zimbabwe.

AP

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Johannesburg, South Africa; and Harare, Zimbabwe

– Casting their votes Saturday, Zimbabweans have made up their minds on whether they want another five years of President Robert Mugabe.

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The answer, according to preliminary results monitored at polling stations by opposition activists and independent observers seems to be an unqualified "no."

But with no official results announced by Sunday night, tensions were rising in the capital, Harare.

Now all eyes are turning to Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF Party, and especially his well-armed military and security agencies.

Senior police, intelligence, and military commanders have all said they would not salute a "puppet," referring to top opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai. One senior ZANU-PF official even warned opposition activists not to declare premature victory, saying that the government would treat this as a "coup."

Yet if the military commanders order a clampdown on opposition supporters, will their soldiers – as poverty stricken as much of the rest of the country – follow them?

"There's a lot of talk about people's power at the polls, but a change of leadership will only happen if the military joins the masses," says Henri Boshoff, a military analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane, as Pretoria is now called. "The question now is, what will the military do?"

While police forces, and especially the riot police are well looked after, the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) reportedly have been struck with mass desertions, says Mr. Boshoff. At times, the ZDF has been so hard up for cash and supplies that it has sent its troops home on compulsory leave because it couldn't feed them. As such, Boshoff says, statements by senior military commanders should be taken with a grain of salt.

"What the military says at the senior level and what happens at the ground level of the rank and file are two very different things," says Boshoff.

Opposition celebrations

In constituencies around the country, supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition party started to celebrate. Jubilant crowds filled the streets of Harare as word of the MDC's victory spread across the country. Many said the MDC victory meant an end to the suffering of Zimbabweans, whose country has the highest inflation rate in the world (100,000 percent) and 80 percent unemployment to boot.

"Our cries have been heard," said Arnold Munashe, a voter in Harare. "The old man is gone and our suffering has ended. Let's try another leader, Morgan Tsvangirai," he said, referring to the MDC leader as he joined his colleagues in the celebrations.

In Mbare, Harare's oldest high-density suburb, suspected Zanu-PF militia forced the closure of a popular market as punishment for "voting the MDC into power." The market was only reopened after police intervention.

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