Riots shake Zimbabwean capital as election results delayed

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Rioting has erupted in Zimbabwe’s capital as opposition supporters clashed with police and army troops over delays in announcing results from the presidential election.

The security forces opened fire with guns, water cannons and tear gas, and protesters burned cars and threw rocks as helicopters hovered above Harare.

Zimbabweans protest in Harare
Zimbabweans protest in Harare (Jerome Delay/AP)

Armoured personnel carriers ferried troops and riot police to the scene.

Dark smoke rose near the offices of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission where protesters burned tyres and at least two vehicles.

The commission postponed announcing results of Monday’s tightly fought presidential race, pitting President Emmerson Mnangagwa against opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.

The commission said it would release vote totals “some time” on Thursday, even though it said most of the results “are here with us”.

Agents for all 23 candidates must verify them first, it said.

Opposition party supporters react after police fire tear gas in Harare
Opposition party supporters react after police fire tear gas in Harare (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

“The more the presidential vote is delayed, the more it calls into question the population’s confidence in the election process,” said former Liberian leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the lead observer of a US monitoring mission.

“The longer it (the delay in announcing the results of the presidential race), the more the issue of lack of credibility arises,” European Union observer Elmar Brok said.

Both the EU and US missions urged the release of the presidential results as soon as possible.

The EU mission questioned why presidential votes were counted first but were being announced last.

Police patrol outside the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission offices in Harare
Police patrol outside the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission offices (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

The EU observer mission said “a truly level playing field was not achieved” in the election, pointing out the “misuse of state resources, instances of coercion and intimidation, partisan behaviour by traditional leaders and overt bias in state media”.

It said the election campaign and voting were largely peaceful in a break from the past.

The opposition has alleged irregularities, saying voting results were not posted outside one-fifth of polling stations as required by law.

Mr Mnangagwa’s government has accused Mr Chamisa and his supporters of inciting violence by declaring he had won.

An opposition party supporter throws a rock aimed at Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa's election campaign poster in Harare
An opposition party supporter throws a rock at Emmerson Mnangagwa’s campaign poster in Harare (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

The violence was an unnerving reminder of the tensions that pervade the southern African nation, debilitated by Mr Mugabe’s long, repressive rule.

The 94-year-old former leader had been in power since independence from white minority rule in 1980 until he was forced to resign in November after the military and ruling party turned on him.

Mr Mnangagwa, a former deputy president who fell out with Mr Mugabe and then took over from him, has said his showing in the election was “extremely positive” while urging people to wait for official results.

Mr Chamisa, a lawyer and pastor who leads the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, has claimed victory based on results supporters said they collected from agents in the field.

“We won the popular vote & will defend it!” Mr Chamisa tweeted.

The violence appeared to dash the hopes of Zimbabweans that the peaceful vote would lift them out of decades of economic and political stagnation under Mr Mugabe, but the country is haunted by a history of electoral violence and manipulation that means trust is scarce.

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