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April 10, 2008

More commercial farmers evicted in Zimbabwe's poll aftermath

More than 60 mostly white Zimbabwean farmers have been evicted from their land by war veterans loyal to President Robert Mugabe since the weekend, a farmers' union said on Tuesday.

"The situation is very severe. The evictions are continuing right round the country. We have over 60 farmers evicted as of this morning. Every couple of minutes my phone is ringing with another case of eviction," Commercial Farmers' Union president Trevor Gifford said.

The veterans have been used as political shock troops by Mugabe.

Gifford said farmers were forced to leave with only the clothes they were wearing, and at least one black farmer was evicted as well.

"His workers' houses have all been burnt and he's been accused of voting for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change [MDC]," Gifford said.

The veterans said last week they would invade all remaining white-owned farms after reports that white farmers were preparing to grab back farms seized under Mugabe's land reforms.

The veterans led a wave of violent occupations of white farms as part of reforms that began in 2000. Mugabe's critics say the reforms played a big part in ruining the economy. He blames Western sanctions for the economic damage.

Zimbabwean police were not immediately available for comment.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's High Court ruled on Tuesday it would treat the opposition's application for the immediate release of presidential election results urgently and began hearing arguments in the case.

Legal proceedings are already in their fourth day and could drag further, delaying the end of a 10-day stalemate that has dashed hopes of a quick answer as to whether Mugabe lost the March 29 vote or will face a run-off.

Opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai says he has won the election outright and should be declared president. Mugabe's party is pushing for a further delay in issuing results pending a recount.

"I find that the application is urgent. The case should now proceed," Judge Tendai Uchena said of the opposition request.

Zimbabweans, many reduced to misery by the meltdown of their once-prosperous economy, are waiting to see whether the election will end the 28-year-rule of Mugabe or make way for a re-run between him and Tsvangirai.

MDC lawyer Alec Muchadehama told the court that it had the power to order the release of the results.

"The applicants have a legitimate concern to have the results announced expeditiously. The applicants have a clear right to the results," Muchadehama said, arguing the recount sought by the ruling Zanu-PF could only happen after results are announced.

"How can someone challenge results that are not known? Where did those people get the results to enable them to make these challenges?"

Tsvangirai accuses the 84-year-old Mugabe of planning violence to overturn results of the presidential and parliamentary votes. Long legal delays could also give Mugabe more time to organise a fightback for any run-off vote.

In another legal case complicating the election stalemate, police said seven poll officials around the country were due to appear in court charged with undercounting votes cast for Mugabe.

Zanu-PF and independent monitors' projections show that although Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the presidential vote, he failed to win an absolute majority and will be forced into a run-off.

Electoral rules say this must be held three weeks after the release of results.

Traders in neighbouring South Africa said the impasse was likely to weigh on the rand currency, briefly boosted last week when there was speculation Mugabe would stand down after Zanu-PF suffered its first defeat in a parallel parliamentary poll.

"Counting against the rand is the way in which the Zimbabwe elections are rapidly deteriorating into a farce," said market analysts ETM in a trading note.

But tensions reduced a little in the countryside after state media said police had ordered independence war veterans off white farms they had invaded in southern Masvingo province.

Zimbabwe has inflation of more than 100 000% -- the highest in the world -- an unemployment rate above 80% and chronic shortages of food and fuel. Millions have fled abroad, most of them to South Africa.

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