Zimbabwe's High Court rejected an opposition demand Monday for the immediate release of long-delayed election results, prolonging a political crisis that has paralyzed this southern African nation for more than two weeks, a lawyer for the opposition said.
The main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, says he won the March 29 election outright, and has accused President Robert Mugabe of holding back the results so he can orchestrate a runoff and ensure his 28-year grip on power.
Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change had hoped that the court - though stacked with Mugabe loyalists - would force the election commission to release the results. The commission, which had quickly published results for parliamentary and local elections held the same day, said it was delaying the release of the presidential results so it could verify the votes.
MDC lawyer Andrew Makoni said Monday that the court rejected the opposition demand and accepted the election commission's explanation that it was investigating anomalies in some of the voting districts.
"It cannot be said that they have delayed inordinately to release the results of the presidential poll. They have not strayed outside the law," Makoni said, summarizing the ruling.
"It's a very sad day in Zimbabwe," Makoni said. "(The court) has given the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission a blank check. We don't know when the ZEC will be ready with results. We don't know what specific time would be reasonable in the eyes of the court."
Government spokesman Bright Matonga said he could not comment until he read the ruling.
Opposition spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the party, which has refrained from holding major protests in recent weeks, would go ahead with plans for a nationwide strike Tuesday.
Mugabe has been accused of undermining democracy and the economy in trying to stay in power.
Tsvangirai was in South Africa on Monday meeting prominent officials, his spokesman Nqobizitha Mlilo said.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, tasked with helping find a solution to the crisis, has argued that confronting Mugabe could backfire, and other leaders in the region have followed his lead. But Mbeki is under increasing pressure to show results.
On Sunday, the chairwoman of South Africa's governing African National Congress, Baleka Mbete, offered criticism of Zimbabwe that appeared to break with Mbeki's policy of quiet diplomacy, saying in Cape Town that Zimbabwe's failure to publish election results was an example of a "democratic process gone wrong."
Mbete took over as chairwoman of the ANC earlier this year along with a number of other party leaders seen as Mbeki opponents, most prominent among them new ANC president Jacob Zuma. Mbeki's handling of Mugabe is becoming a point of contention between the two camps within the party, and the result of that internal debate could influence South African government policy on Zimbabwe.
"As parliamentarians, we cannot remain silent when we witness sufferings and violation of human rights," Mbete told a meeting of lawmakers from around the world Sunday. "We can also not remain silent about the situation in Zimbabwe."
Mbeki, who met with Mugabe on Saturday, said over the weekend there was no crisis in Zimbabwe.
Developments in Zimbabwe since the vote have prompted condemnation from Western governments and rights groups, who have documented a wave of politically motivated attacks as Mugabe's allies appear to be using intimidation to ensure victory in an expected runoff.
Mugabe's neighbors, though, have been largely silent. A summit of regional leaders that ended Sunday in Zambia failed to demand the immediate release of results or to condemn Mugabe, as the opposition had hoped.
Instead, the leaders said the results should be verified quickly and in the presence of the candidates or their agents "within the rule of law." Mugabe skipped the summit.
The ruling party also worked to overturn the results of parliamentary elections held alongside the presidential vote. Official results showed Mugabe's party lost its majority in parliament for the first time in Zimbabwe's history.
But electoral officials agreed to recount the results for 23 constituencies, all but one of them won by the opposition. If the recount, set for Saturday, overturned just a few of those results, the ruling party would regain control of parliament.
A court hearing is set for Tuesday on the opposition's call to stop the recount.
Meanwhile, two South African satellite technicians were released Monday after being held for more than two weeks on charges of covering the election illegally. The two were in Zimbabwe working for Globecast, which provided satellite services to some broadcasters covering the election.
"They've been acquitted on both charges. They're at the South African embassy at this moment, and we hope to fly them out later this evening," said Abdulhak Gardee, a representative of Globecast in Johannesburg.