Zimbabwe's defeated opposition vowed today to go to court to overturn the results of the country's elections, as one of its senior members fled to neighbouring Zambia to evade arrest.
Tendai Biti, a veteran figure in the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), claimed asylum in Zambia after making a dash for the border, reportedly facing charges of inciting post-election violence.
There were conflicting reports about his whereabouts, with Zambia's foreign minister saying Biti was being kept at the border and would be denied asylum, while an MDC lawyer said he was in the Zambian capital Lusaka.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa was on Friday declared winner of Zimbabwe's first elections since the downfall of autocrat Robert Mugabe in November, but the MDC claim the ruling ZANU-PF party won through "mammoth theft and fraud".
Zambian authorities "will facilitate his safe passage back to Harare", Malanji added.
The asylum drama came as the MDC said it would lodge a court challenge against the election results in which Mnangagwa won 50.8 per cent.
The result was just enough to avoid a run-off between Mnangagwa, the former Mugabe ally who replaced him, and his MDC rival Nelson Chamisa, who scored 44.3 per cent.
"Those results represent a total negation of the will of the people," MDC lawyer Thabani Mpofu told reporters in Harare, charging that the results published by the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) "grossly mathematically fail to tally".
Mnangagwa, who is seeking to reverse Zimbabwe's economic isolation and attract badly needed foreign investment, had vowed the elections would turn a page on Mugabe's repressive 37-year repressive rule.
But the election has been marred by accusations of a post-vote crackdown on the opposition as well as the deadly protests and rigging claims.
Human Rights Watch has reported multiple cases of beatings and harassment in Harare's suburbs as soldiers allegedly attack opposition supporters, sparking alarm from the European Union and United States.
The MDC headquarters were raided last week by authorities in what Mpofu described as "an attempt to destroy our evidence" for election rigging, but he said their data was secure.
The MDC has until Friday to lodge its suit and the Constitutional Court must rule on the petition within 14 days -- meaning Mnangagwa's inauguration would likely be delayed.
Mpofu declined to detail what evidence of fraud the MDC claims to have, promising instead to reveal "a secret weapon" in court.
He added the MDC would likely cite a EU observer report that concluded the election was held on an "un-level playing field", with Mnangagwa benefiting from state resources as well as a degree of voter intimidation.
"It would be rather odd to manipulate the results and then issue a spreadsheet inviting people to find out exactly how that manipulation had taken place," he told AFP.
The ZEC was notorious for fraud under Mugabe, but it has staunchly denied allegations of rigging this time around, as have Mnangagwa and his party.
Analysts say Mnangagwa needs strong international support if he hopes to succeed in his bid to reverse the massive damage Mugabe did to Zimbabwe's economy.
Agricultural output plummeted after Mugabe began seizing white-owned farms in 2000 and public services are in ruins, while hyperinflation has forced Zimbabwe to abandon its currency and rely largely on the US dollar instead.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)