A Zimbabwe court will rule on Monday on whether it has the authority to order the release of delayed presidential election results which Robert Mugabe's opponents say will show his long grip on power is over.
No results have emerged from the presidential vote nine days ago and Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF wants the electoral commission to delay announcing the outcome pending a recount.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition says Mugabe wants the delay to help him find a way to cling to power despite his people's rejection of him, amid hyperinflation and economic collapse. It is asking the High Court to force their release. The MDC says its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has already won and should be declared president, ending Mugabe's uninterrupted 28-year rule since independence from Britain.
After a hearing lasting almost four hours, High Court judge Tendai Uchena adjourned to consider an electoral commission argument that he did not have jurisdiction.
Mugabe suffered his first election defeat when ZANU-PF lost control of parliament in the March 29 elections.
ZANU-PF and independent monitors' projections show Tsvangirai has won the presidential election but will be forced into a runoff vote after failing to win an absolute majority.
ZANU-PF's strategy to stay in power includes legal challenges to some of the parliamentary results and the mobilisation of pro-government militias before any runoff.
The re-emergence of war veterans, who in recent years led a wave of violent occupations of white farms as part of a government land redistribution programme, increased fears Mugabe's supporters would try to intimidate opponents.
Responding to reports of fresh farm invasions by the war veterans, Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU) chief executive Hendrick Olivier said police had dispersed groups of people "claiming to be war veterans ordering farmers to vacate their farms" in Masvingo province.
"We have also received similar reports from two farms in Centenary. Reports have also been made to the police and we hope they will act as swiftly as they did in Masvingo," he said.
Agricultural officials say a majority of Zimbabwe's 4,500 or so white commercial farmers have been forced off their properties since 2000 when Mugabe launched his land reforms.
Analysts say the 600-700 remaining are spread across the country, but mostly in large-scale cattle ranches and wildlife estates in Zimbabwe's southern Masvingo and Matabeleland provinces.
Most evictions took place in the grain- and tobacco- producing belt of Mashonaland.
The new invasions by the war veterans are taking place in these areas, and in Masvingo where the remaining white farmers are being accused of harbouring fellow whites who want to claim back their properties.
Electoral rules say a runoff must be held three weeks after the release of results, meaning the longer the delay the more time Mugabe has to regroup.
"WAR ON THE PEOPLE"
On Saturday, Tsvangirai accused the 84-year-old former guerrilla leader of "preparing a war on the people".
Zimbabwe state radio reported the war veterans had threatened to occupy all white farms in Masvingo Province after reports that their original owners were returning to land seized by the government after 2000.
The state-owned Sunday Mail said ZANU-PF had rejected an opposition offer to form a unity government. The MDC said it had made no approaches to the ruling party.
"That's nonsense. That's absolutely nonsense, we won this election under extremely difficult circumstances. The only thing that worries us is the violence and the war that they have unleashed on the people of Zimbabwe," MDC spokesman Tendai Biti said.
Britain and the United States, both of whom have applied sanctions against Mugabe and his top officials, have criticised the election delay and suggested it could be the precursor to a rigged result.
Mugabe's government is widely accused in the West of stealing previous presidential and parliamentary elections, and his removal is regarded by Washington and London as necessary to rebuilding Zimbabwe's shattered economy.
Zimbabweans are struggling with inflation of more than 100,000 percent -- the highest in the world -- mass unemployment and shortages of meat, bread, fuel and other necessities. (Reuters)
Zimbabwe court to rule on election results