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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mugabe Wins, Opposition Cries Foul

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- The government declared President Robert Mugabe the winner of the most bitter presidential election in Zimbabwe's history Wednesday in a vote observers said was deeply marred by irregularities and ruling-party violence.

The results announced on state-owned radio showed a victory for Mugabe, whose race against former labor leader Morgan Tsvangirai presented the first real electoral challenge for the president since he led Zimbabwe to independence 22 years ago.

With all districts reporting final results, Mugabe had about 54 percent of the votes, while Tsvangirai had 40 percent, government officials said. State radio said there were 1,685,212 votes for Mugabe and 1,258,401 for Tsvangirai. Election officials said 3,130,913 people voted out of 5,647,812 registered.

"We hereby declare Robert Gabrielle Mugabe has received the majority of votes cast," said Todawa Mudede, the registrar-general of the state electoral directorate. The results still have to be certified to be official.

"This is a runaway victory," Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said. "It was won on the issue of the land," he added, mentioning Mugabe's policy of seizing white-owned land and turning it over to landless blacks.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change rejected the results.

"No sane person can say this is anything that comes even close to a free and fair election," David Coltart, an opposition member of parliament, said. "There are some really odd figures" from rural areas, he added. Independent observers questioned the validity of the vote, saying it was tainted by violence, intimidation, confusion and the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters in the opposition stronghold of Harare.

"The presidential elections failed to meet key, broadly accepted criteria for elections," said Kare Vollan, head of the 25-member Norwegian observer mission. He said the mission found flaws with every step of the electoral process from voter registration and campaigning to the actual vote.

As the results were announced early Wednesday morning, Zimbabwean security forces were on "full alert" to stomp out any unrest, state television reported.

Police roadblocks were set up on main roads leading into Harare, and soldiers briefly surrounded the oppositions headquarters in Bulawayo.

Amnesty International said 1,400 opposition polling agents and independent election observers had been detained and others had been arrested for allegedly trying to vote a second time.

Mugabe began facing dissent recently, when the nation's economy collapsed and political violence -- blamed mostly on the ruling party -- became rampant.

The economy began unraveling after the occupations of white-owned farms began in March 2000. Unemployment is at 60 percent, inflation is at 112 percent and the "breadbasket of southern Africa" has to import food.