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Zimbabwe Election Results Trickle Out

The opposition claimed a wide lead Monday in Zimbabwe's presidential and parliamentary balloting, but only a few official results were released, heightening fears a regime accused of ruining the economy and undermining democracy planned to hold onto power through rigging.

One of Robert Mugabe's Cabinet ministers lost his seat in a district seen as a ruling party stronghold, one of 52 races for which Zimbabwe's Electoral Commission released results Monday. The official tally gave 26 seats to Mugabe's party and 26 to the opposition, including one seat for a breakaway faction.

The final results in the presidential contest may not be announced until Wednesday, CBS News reporter Katherine Arms said.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change began announcing its own tally a day earlier and claimed Monday its results, based on counts posted at polling stations in 128 of the country's 210 parliamentary districts, showed it was leading presidential elections with 60 percent of the votes compared to 30 percent for Mugabe. The rest of the presidential votes went to former ruling party loyalist and Finance Minister Simba Makoni, whose campaign as an independent brought splits within the ruling party over Mugabe's rule into the open.

The elections have presented Mugabe, 84, with the toughest challenge ever to his 28-year rule. The voting was generally peaceful after a campaign that focused on the destroyed economy, with inflation soaring beyond 100,500 percent.

The Movement for Democratic Change also said the opposition won 96 seats in the House of Assembly. Parliamentary and local council balloting was held alongside the presidential vote Saturday.

Movement for Democratic Change secretary-general Tendai Biti told reporters that the party's sources at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said rigging was under way aimed at giving Mugabe a 52 percent victory in the presidential race, and his party 111 of the 210 House of Assembly seats. A presidential candidate needs at least 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a runoff.

The slow official reporting "only goes to raise tension among the people," Biti said.

Biti indicated if the vote were stolen, the opposition would mount peaceful protests - not go to the courts.

"We have election disputes still pending from 2002" in the courts, he said. "We are not going to make that mistake again. Our courts will be the people of Zimbabwe and our brothers and sisters in Africa."

Biti cautioned against resorting to violence, which he said could spark a security or military crackdown.

"Zimbabweans are rightfully anxious," he said. "Zimbabweans are not a violent people and we hope people are not provoked into violence if official results differ from those posted at polling stations."

Britain, the United States Germany and the EU called for faster reporting Monday to ease tension.

"The opportunities for mischief increase the longer the delay is between the elections and the announcement of the vote," U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters in Washington.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa's loss, reported in the official tally, fits a pattern independent monitors had seen earlier. The monitors, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publish results, said six Cabinet ministers - among them some leading members of Mugabe's inner circle - had lost their parliament seats. They had identified Vice President Joyce Mujuru among those, but the official results showed her keeping her seat.

In addition, observers from the South African Democratic Alliance opposition party have said accounts from observers and other sources indicated the opposition had won a majority in most areas.

But Tsvangirai narrowly lost disputed 2002 elections, and questions remained as to whether Mugabe, who has been accused of rigging past elections, would accept defeat this time.

It also was unclear how powerful backers who have benefited from Mugabe's rule would react. While younger army officers are reported to be losing patience with Mugabe, security chiefs said before the election they would not accept an opposition victory. A show of force by riot police and other security forces dampened celebrations Sunday in the capital's densely populated suburb where support for the opposition is strong.

Election observers have said some initial results were known as early as 11 p.m. (2100 GMT) Saturday, some four hours after polls closed. In previous elections, partial results have been announced within hours of voting ending.

Businesses in Harare reported many people stayed home Monday, apparently to follow results. Zimbabweans shared election results among themselves, sending cell-phone text messages and e-mails that congested the country's networks.

If Tsvangirai were to claim victory before the official results are announced, it would be "called a coup d'etat and we all know how coups are handled," chief presidential spokesman George Charamba was quoted as saying in the state-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper.

Sources within the ruling party said Mugabe was consulting with his security chiefs Sunday night amid fears of how they might react to any news of his defeat. The chiefs all have said they would serve only Mugabe.

Western diplomats report that many younger army officers showed open defiance of orders to vote for Mugabe. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity.

Britain, long a sharp critic of Mugabe, had plans to offer more aid to Zimbabwe if "the democratic wish of the people is respected," Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman Michael Ellam told reporters in London Monday.