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Tsvangirai in SAfrica as EU, UN push for poll results

HARARE, April 7 – Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai held meetings in South Africa on Monday as the EU and the UN ramped up international pressure for the release of the March 29 presidential results.

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon urged Zimbabwe’s electoral commission to release results of the polls "expeditiously and with transparency," while the European Union called for them "without further delay."

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said only that its leader had flown back to Zimbabwe late Monday after a routine visit to Johannesburg.

A judge in Harare dismissed a claim by the electoral commission that the courts could not legally hear an opposition legal bid to force the immediate declaration of the results and postponed any ruling till Tuesday.

"The judge dismissed the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s application that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the matter," MDC lawyer Alec Muchadehama told reporters outside the high court in the capital.

"The judge has requested for more time to decide on the matter of the urgency and a ruling will be made tomorrow at 10:00 am (1200 GMT)," he said.

Tsvangirai, 56, claims outright victory in the March 29 poll but the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) says there was no clear winner and has endorsed President Robert Mugabe for a second-round vote.

The MDC wrested control of parliament from Mugabe’s party for the first time, but the ZANU-PF is contesting enough seats to potentially overturn that result and has demanded a complete recount of the presidential vote.

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Meanwhile the war veterans, hardline Mugabe supporters who led often violent farm invasions at the start of the decade, have tried to move onto several of the few remaining white-owned farms.

The Commercial Farmers Union, which represents mainly the few remaining white farmers in Zimbabwe, said Mugabe supporters had moved onto at least 15 white-owned properties and accused the ruling party of an "apartheid" campaign.

"People are being paid to basically carry out the wishes of the highest office. This is purely racial. We should be living in a country of harmony but the state media is pushing racial hatred which is not good for the country."

The farm invasions serve as a reminder of the violence which followed Mugabe’s last electoral reverse when he lost a referendum on presidential powers in 2000.

The then occupation of some 4,000 farms came after he was defeated in a constitutional referendum aimed at broadening his powers and facilitating land seizures.

Gifford warned similar sentiments were on the boil again and urged the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc to intervene.

"It’s another apartheid. It’s going to get out of hand if SADC does not have a grip on it," he said.

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe ever since independence from Britain in 1980, has sought to stoke racial tensions and discredit the opposition as Western puppets who would reverse his land reforms.

"Land must remain in our hands. The land is ours, it must not be allowed to slip back into the hands of whites," Mugabe was quoted as saying by the state daily Herald on Monday.

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Critics blame Mugabe’s land reform programme, which was intensified after he lost the referendum in 2000, for Zimbabwe’s meltdown from regional breadbasket to economic basket case.

Faced with 80 percent unemployment and six-digit inflation, almost one third of Zimbabwe’s 13 million population have left the country, both to find work and food as even basics such as bread and cooking oil are now hard to come by.

Meanwhile, a Harare court released on bail New York Times correspondent Barry Bearak, a British national and two South African media workers after charging them with covering the March 29 polls without accreditation.

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