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Zimbabwe's former guerrillas back Mugabe

4th April 2008

By: Reuters

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Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's aides debated his next move on Friday after he suffered the worst setback of his long rule and liberation war veterans accused the opposition of provocation for claiming election victory.

The war veterans, a powerful force backing Mugabe, said victory claims by the Movement for Democratic Change, who won a parliamentary election and say they also defeated Mugabe in a presidential poll, were "a provocation against us freedom fighters".

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Their leader, Jabulani Sibanda, also told a news conference the veterans would repel any attempt by white farmers to repossess properties seized by Mugabe and given to them.

The ruling ZANU-PF top leadership met on Friday to decide whether Mugabe should contest a runoff vote against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai after the party lost the parliamentary poll for the first time in his 28-year rule.

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A ZANU-PF official told Reuters the meeting was expected to agree he would fight to retain power in a runoff.

There is increasing impatience in Zimbabwe at a six-day wait for the results of the presidential election, which Tsvangirai's MDC said he won outright but which ZANU-PF and independent projections indicate will require a second round.

The MDC said it would ask the High Court to order the immediate release of the results. It believes the delay masks attempts by Mugabe to engineer a way out of the crisis.

Mugabe faces deep discontent as Zimbabwe suffers the world's highest inflation rate of more than 100,000 percent, a virtually worthless currency and severe food and fuel shortages.

Referring to the politburo meeting, a senior party member told Reuters: "I have no doubt the resolution will be in favour of a run-off, I have no doubt about that.

"We cannot just hand it to Morgan (Tsvangirai) on a silver platter. We will fight for it and we will win."

The opposition says its tallies show Tsvangirai won an absolute majority and should be declared president immediately.

WHITE FARMERS

The statement by veterans of a war against white rule in the 1970s appeared to refer to a report in the state-owned Herald newspaper saying there were reports of white farmers threatening to grab back their land.

Critics say the handing of the farms to inexperienced farmers and Mugabe cronies is a key reason for Zimbabwe's economic collapse.

Amid rumours that security forces planned to crackdown on the opposition, Tsvangirai spokesman George Sibotshiwe denied the MDC leader had gone into hiding.

"He had a meeting with diplomats today and he is in his offices. He has no reason to hide."

Senate results, which must precede the presidential outcome, only began trickling out on Thursday night.

A runoff should be held on April 19, three weeks after the elections, but civil society groups said Mugabe plans to extend that to 90 days to buy time to regroup.

A statement by civil society organisations in Harare said they had "reliable knowledge" that Mugabe intended to extend the interval before a runoff "using disputed and autocratic presidential powers".

The statement read by human rights lawyer Lovemore Madhuku expressed "gravest concern at the unacceptable delay in the release of poll results".

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