Zimbabwe's opposition warned against claiming early election win

Zimbabwe's government has warned political opponents against declaring an early election victory, suggesting such a move would amount to an attempted coup.

Zimbabwe's main opposition party is claiming an early lead in elections amid a warning from a government spokesman that declaring victory prematurely would amount to an attempted coup.
 
"It's a coup d'état, and we all know how coups are handled," government press secretary George Charamba told the state-owned Sunday Mail after the main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), told observers that early results showed it was headed for victory.

MDC, led by former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai, said it's leading the race against President Robert Mugabe with 67 per cent of the votes. Its assessment is based on returns from about one-third of polling stations.

The party's secretary-general, Tendai Biti, said MDC won nearly all parliament seats in the main cities of Harare and Bulawayo as well as in some traditional ruling party strongholds.

"This far, short of a miracle, we have won this election beyond any reasonable doubt. We have won this election," Biti told a news conference early Sunday.

During a speech that berated the media, electoral commission chairman George Chiweshe said results may be published by 6 a.m. local time on Monday, the CBC's Adrienne Arsenault reported. Final official results may not be known until later in the week, according to election officials.

If no candidate wins more than 51 per cent of the vote, the election will go into a second round.

At least one election observer says he is convinced the Zimbabwe Election Commission is holding back the results.

Marwick Khumalo, head of the Pan-African parliament, told CBC News he believes the commission knows who won but isn't saying.

"We are getting various anecdotal reports of street fighting in some communities," said Arsenault, reporting from Harare. There have been reports of several arrests and a growing security presence on the streets, she added.

Meanwhile, MDC said it's investigating reports of vote rigging by the ruling ZANU-PF party to give Mugabe a sixth term in office.

Observers say the official rolls in some districts were inflated with a large number of phantom voters. Opposition reports suggest that hundreds and possibly thousands of Mugabe's opponents were turned away at the polls.
 
The election has presented Mugabe, 84, with the toughest political challenge to his 28-year rule, badly tarnished in recent years with an economic collapse that has seen inflation rise above 100,000 per cent and unemployment running at 80 per cent.

People in the once-prosperous south African nation, led by Mugabe since its independence in 1980, are also coping with chronic shortages of food, medicine and fuel.

Mugabe repeatedly dismisses his opponents as stooges of former colonial power Britain and accuses the West of sabotaging Zimbabwe's economy.

While visiting Jerusalem on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "the Mugabe regime is a disgrace to the people of Zimbabwe and a disgrace to southern Africa and to the continent of Africa as whole."

With files from the Associated Press