Zimbabweans ignore stayaway call citing fear of reprisal

(dpa) - A general strike to press for the release of results from last month's presidential elections got under way in Zimbabwe Tuesday but many people went to work as normal citing fears of reprisal.

Security in the capital Harare was tight on the first day of the open-ended work stayaway called by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to try to secure results from the March 29 vote.

Army trucks, some equipped with water cannon, moved through opposition strongholds in the city, and riot police and police manned checkpoints.

Despite signs that many in Harare had ignored the strike call as buses ferried people to work and markets opened as normal, the MDC was already describing the action as a success.

"Given that the unemployment rate is more than 80 per cent and the intimidatory tactics being used by the regime, we have been successful," MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said.

The party called for a stayaway after the High Court in Harare Monday threw out its application for a court order forcing the state-controlled Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to urgently release the poll results.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai claims to have defeated longtime President Robert Mugabe in the election but Mugabe's party claims neither Mugabe nor Tsvangirai won outright and that a runoff will be needed.

Several people interviewed by Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in Harare said they had gone to work for fear of being victimized.

"In the previous stayaways, some people would come after and threaten us if we continued listening to the MDC," said Spiwe Samunga, who works in a clothes shop.

Machel Mhofu, a 28-year-old mechanic, said the heavy police presence in his neighbourhood convinced him to go to work.

"I thought they would go from door to door asking why we are at home," he said.

The MDC says two of its members have been killed in attacks by Mugabe party supporters in recent days and more than 200 injured.

On Monday, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said it had reports of 130 political attacks, including two people killed.

Police, for their part, said they suspected MDC members of torching a bus in the Warren Park area of the capital Tuesday morning.

Witnesses at the scene said no-one was injured as the assailants had asked the passengers to disembark before burning it.

ZEC's failure to announce the outcome 17 days after the vote has caused consternation in Zimbabwe and abroad.

The results were posted outside polling stations around the country the day after voting.

The MDC accuses Mugabe of withholding the results to manipulate the outcome and said it opposes a runoff but Tsvangirai has indicated at least twice in recent days he would partake in a second round if Zimbabwe's neighbours could ensure it was free and fair.

On Sunday, an emergency meeting of Zimbabwe's neighbours in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) ended with a call for the ZEC to release the results "expeditiously."

Despite the court setback Monday, lawyers for the MDC were scheduled to go back to the High Court Tuesday afternoon to protest ZEC's plans for a partial recount.

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