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Runoff OK, says Zimbabwe ruling party

  • Story Highlights
  • Zimbabwe's electoral commission yet to release final election results
  • Opposition seeks court intervention to get results released
  • Delay in releasing results raises fears Mugabe is trying to remain in power
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HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) -- Zimbabwe's ruling party said Friday that President Robert Mugabe would be willing to face Morgan Tsvangirai in a runoff election.

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Men talk by posters for President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe's capital Harare.

The announcement by Zanu-PF was made before official results of the March 29 presidential race were announced by the Electoral Commission, which will have the final say in whether a second round of voting occurs.

A runoff is required when neither candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote. Last Saturday, voters also cast ballots for House and Senate seats and local council members. The commission is required by law to release final figures six days after an election.

According to George Sibotshiwe, a spokesman for Tsvangirai's party, a runoff must be held within 21 days of the announcement of election results.

Mugabe's party is in disarray, split between those who think Mugabe should gracefully step down and those who say he should fight to stay in office, a party member said Thursday. Mugabe has been in power since Zimbabwe became independent 28 years ago.

Hours before the commission's midnight deadline to release all election results, Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change filed an application with the High Court in an effort to force the commission to release the figures, MDC attorney Andrew Makoni said.

A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Saturday about noon, Makoni said. The MDC wants the court to order the commission to release the results within four hours of its decision, he added.

The lack of election results has raised fears that Mugabe is working on ways to remain in power if the vote goes against him. The decision to announce his willingness to participate in a runoff was made Friday during a lengthy meeting of Mugabe's party leaders, said Bright Matonga, deputy information minister.

Zanu-PF also plans to contest 16 seats in the lower house of parliament in an effort to keep a majority, a government official said.

The MDC barely beat Mugabe's party in the House elections, according to official results. The state-run newspaper, The Herald, reported that it was a "photo finish," with MDC taking 99 seats and Zanu-PF 97. A look at the candidates »

Totals for the Senate are not known. The commission began releasing seat-by-seat results late Friday afternoon.

With no presidential results, Zimbabweans were nervous, said Dzikamai Machingura, the national director of ZimRights, a human rights group.

Asked how the situation is affecting residents, he said, "Well, with regard to the election results ... I will tell you that, typically, people are driving to work. They get to work and they sit at their desks. They do no productive work because all their minds are elsewhere."

Another Zimbabwean said, "People are just anxious because they're wondering whether the results are actually, really going to come out for the presidential race. I think because it's taken such a long time, there's a lot of anxiety," he said.

The United States has been closely monitoring events.

"Every minute and every hour that the Zimbabwe Election Commission delays releasing official election results gives everyone that much more reason to suspect they are doing so not for legitimate vote-counting purposes but in order to possibly open the door to some abuses of the system," said U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey.

There were more reports of violence Friday, and police continued to hold two Americans, including a New York Times journalist, Casey said. The Zimbabwean government has denied cracking down on journalists and the opposition. Video Watch as journalist describes her arrest »

Casey said that two of the four Americans detained by authorities Thursday have been released or soon will be. One of the two was New York Times reporter Barry Bearak, who is based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Diplomatic officials who visited the detainees reported that they had not been mistreated.

However, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller said in a statement Friday that Bearak "is being held in a frigid cell without shoes, warm clothing or blankets."

"He was interrogated for hours by police seeking to identify sources he may have interviewed," Keller said.

He added that Bearak's attorney said that officials in the attorney general's office agreed that the case, which is based on Bearak allegedly misrepresenting himself as being accredited by Zimbabwe, should be thrown out because the police could produce no witnesses or other evidence against him.

"But somehow the state's lawyers were overruled, and he remains in jail for a second night," Keller said.

The National Democratic Institute said the other U.S. citizen still being held is Dileepan Sivapathasundaram, an NDI senior program officer.

The institute said authorities picked him up at the airport Thursday as he was about to leave the country, and the group had no word from him for 22 hours. He was found by consular officials Friday, the group said on its Web site.

The institute called on the Zimbabwe government to "ensure his safety and safe passage from the country."

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwean government said two journalists arrested and charged with operating as journalists without accreditation were to be in court Friday. Officials did not name the two.

The country's deputy information minister said they were being held at the central police station in Harare. They would face no jail time but would have to pay a fine, he said.

Members of the Zimbabwe Peace Project said Friday that they had received reports that two homes had been burned in the Mudzi District of Mashonaland East Province, and they blamed the incidents on government retribution for those who backed opposition candidates. Photo See photos from the country's elections »

Peace Project Executive Director Jestina Mukoko said the homes belonged to people who campaigned for an MDC candidate in the parliamentary election.

"As the delay for the release of the election results prolong, we expect to get more reports of this retribution," the director said.

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Once revered as the breadbasket of southern Africa with good education and healthcare, Zimbabwe now has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world, schooling is a luxury and it is difficult to get even basic food supplies.

Inflation has skyrocketed to more than 100,000 percent; food production and agricultural exports have dropped drastically. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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