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African Union says Zimbabwe poll 'free and credible' despite 'incidents'

The chief of the African Union observer mission at Zimbabwe's elections says the vote was free and credible. But the opposition and critics are pointing to numerous irregularities that were spotted during the process.

The chief of the African Union (AU) monitoring mission, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, said Friday that Zimbabwe's election on Wednesday had been credible and fair, despite some problems.

"There are incidences that could have been avoided, but all-in-all we do not believe that these incidents will amount to the results not reflecting the will of the people," Obasanjo said.

The AU's preliminary report however voiced "great concern" about reports of large number of people being turned away from polling stations. This is said to have occurred particularly in urban areas, where support for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is highest.

It also noted problems with the electoral roll, which was made publicly available only two days before the poll. Critics say this means voters' names may have been duplicated or omitted in the roll.

The AU also reported that more than two million extra ballots were printed - 35 percent above the 6.4 million voters expected to cast a ballot - something which is against international best practice.

About 600 foreign elections observers, mostly from African bodies, were accredited at the elections along with 6,000 local observers.

Mugabe in early lead

This comes as President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party shows itself confident of a landslide victory. A party spokesman told the DPA news agency that it expected to get between 130 and 140 seats in the 210-seat parliament.

"We are very confident and excited. We think there is a sense of victory for us," Rugare Gumbo said.

Early results from about 30 percent of seats in parliament showed ZANU-PF strongly in the lead, with 52 seats in comparison with 10 for the main challenger, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) under Prime Minister Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai has alleged massive rigging and declared the election "null and void." However, ZANU-PF insists that the poll was fair.

Final results must be announced by Monday. The 89-year-old Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since 1980, has said he will step down if he loses.

tj/rc (dpa, AFP, AP)