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Mugabe wins as tension hangs over Zimbabwe

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"We call upon Zimbabweans to register their concern in accordance with the Constitution starting this Friday," the committee says. According to the Constitution, Zimbabweans have the right to assemble and demonstrate.

This call flies in the face of harsh new security laws passed earlier this year. The laws make any mass action aimed at "coercing" the government an act of treason, punishable by life in prison. Calling any sort of strike could give the government immediate grounds for wholesale arrests of opposition and civil society leaders, several of whom are already facing treason charges.

"Politically, the MDC has to be seen to be doing things within in the law," says Brian Kogoro, director of Crisis in Zimbabwe. "I don't think it will be of any use, but it has to be done."

Mr. Kogoro says that a legal challenge might focus on the disparity between the number of voters who went into the voting booths and the number of votes ultimately counted.

Tawanda Hondora, chair of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, added that another legal challenge might rest on the grounds that while official registration of voters closed on Jan. 27, the government quietly continued to register its supporters until March 4. "Those extra voters, who should not have been eligible to vote, could have swung the elections in favor of President Mugabe," he says. Yet another challenge might focus on the distribution of polling stations, with too few stations being allocated to the urban areas known as opposition strongholds.

From within the MDC there are many voices calling for a "stay away," for people going neither to work nor into the streets in protest. "This is a way to paralyze the country without risking lives," says one official. "We think this could be best."

"The MDC cannot be seen to be encouraging people to take to the streets. It delegitimizes them," says Kogoro. "This is left to other bodies - and they are doing that."

If riots do break out, one question looms: How will the military respond? It is clear that the top command is loyal to Mugabe, and may not hesitate to order troops to shoot into crowds of protesters. Whether the foot soldiers - many of whom are poor and frustrated - will follow orders is yet to be seen.

During the campaign and election, Mugabe and the ZANU-PF showed that they had no hesitation about using violence against opposition supporters.

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