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Zimbabwe court could force release of election results

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  • NEW: Five election officials arrested, accused of undercounting Mugabe votes
  • Zimbabwe High Court says it has power to force release of election results
  • Ruling expected Tuesday on whether it will order release or deem it not urgent
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HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) -- Zimbabwe's High Court ruled Monday it can force the country's electoral commission to release the results of the March 29 presidential election, but it is still unclear if the court will do so.

The court is expected to announce Tuesday morning if the matter is urgent, or whether the petition will be added to the long list of other matters on the court's docket.

"If the court rules that the matter is urgent, we will go to arguments on the main matter as to whether the commission should be compelled to release the results," said Andrew Makoni, a lawyer for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

He said he expects the court, led by Justice Tendai Uchena, to announce Tuesday at 10 a.m. whether the matter is urgent.

If it is deemed urgent, the court could immediately announce whether it will order the commission to release the results, he said. But if it decides the petition is not urgent, it could take months before there is a ruling. Video Watch Zimbabweans' reactions to the delayed results »

MDC petitioned the court Friday, asking it to compel the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to release the results, which it says show a victory for its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. The commission has dragged its feet on releasing the results, despite international calls to do so to avoid possible violence and questions about vote-rigging.

In the absence of official results, Zimbabwe's state-run newspaper has indicated neither Tsvangirai nor President Robert Mugabe received enough votes to avoid a runoff.

Late Monday, the state-run newspaper Harare Herald reported five election officials in Zimbabwe had been arrested, accused of undercounting votes for Mugabe.

According to the Herald, the five officials, who were being charged with either fraud or criminal abuse of duty as public officers, tampered with nearly 5,000 votes. Police were investigating problems in two other areas where they said another 1,400 votes were involved.

More than 2.3 million votes were cast.

The March 29 election presented the most formidable challenge to Mugabe's 28 years of rule in Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai has warned that the 84-year-old incumbent plans to use the election delay -- including the possible runoff -- for underhanded tactics to ensure he remains in power.

Those tactics, he said, include mobilizing his hardline supporters -- the country's war veterans.

"In the runoff, violence will thus be the new weapon to reverse the people's win," Tsvangirai said Saturday. "In this regard, we know that thousands of army recruits are being recruited, militants are being rehabilitated and war veterans are already on a warpath." Video Watch why Zimbabweans are growing more suspicious »

On Sunday, Mugabe called on his supporters to make sure the country's land does not "slip away from us and go back into the hands of the whites," according to the state-run newspaper.

Mugabe spoke as dozens of hardline war veterans invaded at least six white-owned farms during the weekend.

Mugabe has strong support among the veterans of Zimbabwe's war for independence, who were the main beneficiaries of his land redistribution policies that began in 2000.

Under those policies, Mugabe seized commercially white-owned farms and gave the land to black Zimbabweans, saying they were cheated under colonial rule. The number of white-owned farms in Zimbabwe, which used to be in the thousands, has dwindled to about 400.

Much of the farmland is not being harvested and many analysts blame Zimbabwe's current economic collapse -- including staggering inflation and 80 percent unemployment -- on the controversial farm seizures.

Speaking at a funeral for his wife's uncle Sunday, Mugabe addressed recent reports that several evicted white farmers had threatened the current black owners, according to a report in Monday's state-run newspaper.

"Some of us are still on small plots of land, but all the same that land should remain ours," Mugabe said, according to The Herald.

"This is not the time to hear that the fight for our land has retrogressed."

Tensions were ignited Friday after reports surfaced that a war veterans leader, Jabulani Sibanda, accused white farmers -- bolstered by the opposition's victory over Mugabe's ruling party in parliament -- of ordering the black owners to leave the land. A look at the candidates »

That apparently prompted some hardline war veterans Saturday to invade six white-owned farms in Zimbabwe's southern Masvingo province. They gave the farmers and their families between five and 10 hours to vacate their property, the head of Zimbabwe's Commercial Farmers' Union, Hendrick Olivier, told CNN.

The situation in Masvingo was later resolved, he said.


On Sunday, about 25 war veterans camped on a farm in the northern province of Mashonaland Central and chanted liberation war slogans while the farmer and his family locked themselves inside their house, Olivier said.

Olivier called the raids "isolated incidents at this stage." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Journalist Eunice Mafundikwa in Atlanta contributed to this report.

All About ZimbabweRobert MugabeMorgan Tsvangirai

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