As President Robert Mugabe's handpicked Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) recounts votes in 23 constituencies, human rights groups say his militias are setting up "torture camps" to beat opposition supporters and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has fled the country in fear for his life.
Mr. Mugabe's government announced a delay in the partial recount of the disputed March 29 election on Sunday, raising opposition concerns that his ruling ZANU-PF party intends to rig the recount to overturn the results of the parliamentary vote, which showed ZANU-PF losing its majority to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for the first time.
In Nairobi, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in town to celebrate the successful peace deal in Kenya that created a coalition government, called on African leaders to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis.
"On the question of Zimbabwe there has been substantial international attention," Mr. Annan told reporters. "The question which has been posed is: Where are the Africans? Where are their leaders and the countries in the region, what are they doing? It is a rather dangerous situation. It's a serious crisis with impact beyond Zimbabwe."
MDC rejects recount
With a government crackdown now well under way, the political crisis following the elections is escalating sharply.
Leaders of the MDC say that they will not accept the results of the recount and that they will reject calls for a runoff vote against Mugabe. In a new report, Human Rights Watch says pro-government militias – including hundreds of so-called "war veterans" – are arresting and beating anyone suspected of having supported MDC. And as the ongoing "quiet" mediation efforts by South African President Thabo Mbeki lose credibility, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has called for a meeting of African leaders in Ghana next week to discuss Zimbabwe.
Many Africans see this as the first step toward a Kenya-style mediation process, led by Mr. Annan.
"What this shows is that Zimbabwe may be getting sufficient momentum that we might see a continental [African] approach toward Zimbabwe," says Chris Maroleng, a Zimbabwe expert at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa. "But I think that any actor will find that it is difficult to engage Zimbabwe. I doubt [Mugabe] would create the space for [Annan] to come in. He would discredit him, calling him a neo-imperialist proxy of the West."
Will regional countries intervene?
While the Southern African Development Community has been criticized for endorsing the "quiet diplomacy" of Mr. Mbeki, that regional body has a better chance than the African Union or the UN of engaging Mugabe in dialogue, says Mr. Maroleng. "I think the SADC has the best shot here. If they let the situation deteriorate further, that regional body is going to be judged very harshly."
Last week, Zimbabwe's high court ruled that the ZEC could begin a partial recount in 23 of the 210 constituencies, where Mugabe's supporters allege that the ZEC had miscounted votes.
Most of the constituencies are those where the ruling ZANU-PF lost to the MDC, according to preliminary vote counts posted at polls soon after March 29.
MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said the opposition party has discovered that some ballot boxes had been opened and seals broken, meaning that they had been tampered with while they were in the hands of the ZEC. The MDC also says its polling agents were chased away from counting centers by soldiers and pro-Mugabe militiamen, leaving the recounting solely in the hands of the ZEC and ruling party officials.
Meanwhile, human rights activists warn that the current wave of anti-opposition violence may be just beginning. A Chinese ship carrying arms, turned back at the South African port of Durban, now appears to be sailing to Angola, for onward shipment to Zimbabwe.
The powerful South African Transport and Allied Workers Union refused to offload the ship's cargo, out of concern that the weapons may be used against opposition members and dissidents in Zimbabwe. The cargo included 3 million rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 1,500 rocket propelled grenades, and 2,500 mortar rounds
Already political violence has killed 10 opposition supporters since the elections, according to the MDC and Human Rights Watch, while more than 3,000 people have been displaced. Over 200 houses of opposition supporters have been burned as political violence takes root.
"It's a time bomb because people are unhappy and they are bottling up their anger," says Eldred Masunungure, a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. "Mugabe is underestimating the power of the people."
• A journalist who could not be named for security reasons contributed from Harare.