|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
Voters are facing long delays, particularly in the capital, Harare, where votes are also being cast in local and mayoral elections.
Day Three - Saturday 9 March
An unnaturally early start. 5am is not my best time of day. Cheered up (slightly) by the beautiful African landscape in the early morning half-light.
Decide to do first radio interview of the day at our lodge. Proves to be a bad idea. Dogs start barking furiously as soon as the programme comes to me.
Things look up after phoning a few friends and former colleagues in Zimbabwe and hearing first reports of long queues.
Apparently I wasn't the only one who had an early start. Some people were waiting outside polling stations from last night.
Drive the short distance to the portacabins which pass as the BBC office, right next to Beitbridge. The new television live point (where TV correspondents do their interviews) looms over everything. A wood and steel construction, it looks like a launch pad into Zimbabwe, or an execution platform.
Try to phone the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, to confirm reports that he'd called for an extension of voting because of the delays.
Get through to a friendly woman who identifies herself as "Susan".
"Oh, Mrs Tsvangirai, I'm sorry to bother you. I'm trying to contact your husband."
Watch television feed of President Mugabe casting his vote: "I will accept the result, more than accept it, because I will have won."
Day Two - Friday 8 March
Midday - Temperature into the 40s. Who'd have thought that tin foil would be so welcome? The windows on the portacabin offices are now covered, keeping out the scorching sun.
A collective groan went up shortly afterwards, though, when the power failed and the air conditioning packed up.
Looking across Beitbridge and all the trucks rolling into Zimbabwe is tantalising.
The country we should be in is just a few hundred metres away, on the other side of the river, but we're largely confined to sitting and making phone calls.
Watching the television pictures come in provides a reminder of the problems across the border.
Opposition supporters show wounds they say were inflicted by a ruling party militia.
Other film shows queues for food alongside contrasting shots of empty shelves. I notice a couple of street signs close to where I used to live in the north of the capital, Harare.
Back to the phone calls and the familiar recorded message from Zimbabwe: "The circuits on the route you have dialled are all occupied. Please try again later."
Another quotation from President Mugabe, this time in 1982:
"The law of evidence and the criminal procedure we have inherited is a stupid ass. It's one of those principles borne out of the stupidity of some of the procedures of colonial times."
That sounds more familiar.
Tempers were wearing thin by the time polling officially ended for the day at 1700 GMT, and at one station in Harare voters angry at the long wait clashed with police.
President Robert Mugabe is facing a strong challenge from Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The authorities said the delays were caused by a surprisingly high turnout and some stations stayed open beyond the official closing time.
But Mr Tsvangirai said that by reducing the number of places to vote in urban areas, where his support is strongest, the government was deliberately trying to undermine his chances.
"The intention, of course, is to ensure that you frustrate as many urban voters as you can," he said.
However, Mr Chinamasa said: "We are guaranteeing everyone the right to vote, and if it becomes necessary we will consider extending."
At some polling stations, where people began queuing in the middle of the night, as few as 60 people an hour were able to vote.
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Correspondents say last-minute changes to the election laws, changes to the voter register and a reduction in the number of polling stations in urban areas, have slowed the process dramatically.
The 78-year-old Mr Mugabe - who is seeking a further six-year term as president - has dismissed accusations that the changes are designed to improve his chances of winning.
Casting his vote at a primary school in Highfield, a Harare suburb, Mr Mugabe accused the opposition and his international critics of having already decided that if he won, the election must have been rigged.
"It's bias against President Mugabe and bias in favour of the opposition.
"They want to direct events here and they don't want the president of Zimbabwe, the current president, to remain president," he said.
The election is seen as crucial for Zimbabwe's neighbours, as the country's economic crisis has hit regional trade - depriving South Africa of multi-million-dollar foreign investment - and created a new refugee problem.
The run-up to the election was marred by violence and reports on intimidation.
There were fresh reports on Saturday that the government was preventing the deployment of some of the MDC's polling agents at polling stations.
Almost six million Zimbabweans are eligible to vote, but there is still widespread confusion and concern about how the elections are being organised.
An independent study found that voter registration lists were in disarray - with as many as half of the nation's voters registered in the wrong districts.
And the number of international election observers is limited. The head of the South African team told the BBC he had visited six polling stations - out of a total of some 4,500.