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Glimmers of Defiance In a Wary Zimbabwe

"Of course," he said simply, "from what I saw last time."

Did he know opposition supporters who had been beaten?

A Zimbabwean opposition supporter waved the party's open-palm symbol Friday before the scope of the ruling party's win became apparent. (Howard Burditt -- Reuters)

"A lot of people," he said.

These were not isolated conversations. To be in Zimbabwe during the past few weeks was to see unmistakable signs of widespread frustration with Mugabe. Opposition rallies throughout the nation, even in his heartland, drew loud and enthusiastic crowds. And there was little evidence that the focus of Mugabe's campaign -- the supposed intention of British Prime Minister Tony Blair to reestablish Zimbabwe as a colony -- resonated with voters.

Those who said they supported Mugabe's party responded mostly to the powerful issue of land redistribution. Though the violent farm seizures carried out by the government in 2000 were widely criticized by Western leaders, even opposition supporters in Zimbabwe are often critical of the era that preceded them, when a tiny minority of white commercial farmers held most of the nation's best agricultural land.

Edmore Guzha, 32, the proud owner of a 12-acre farm in an area where in the past, black Zimbabweans worked mostly as laborers, said his reason for supporting Mugabe was simple: "He gave us land."

The day after the elections, some opposition supporters were so confident that they dressed up in their best clothes in expectation of a victory party. The first several hours of televised results, which showed an initial surge for the MDC, only reinforced that optimism.

But the next morning, vote totals for Mugabe's party surged. These were mostly from rural areas, where the opposition -- rooted in Zimbabwe's cities -- had not expected to prevail. Still, the extent and scale of the ruling party's victories sobered the opponents.

Seats previously held by the opposition disappeared. In some outlying areas, results ran 2-1 or 3-1 against the opposition. Mugabe's party ended up with 78 seats to the opposition's 41 and one claimed by an independent. And Mugabe would appoint 30 more members, giving him a commanding edge in a parliament with 150 seats.

Though Mugabe's handpicked observers approved the conduct of the elections, results in dozens of districts have turned up puzzling inconsistencies.

In some, the combined vote totals for individual candidates do not equal the supposed number of voters who cast ballots. In others, polling place records show a surge of voters in the final hours of balloting, a time when witnesses have generally agreed that attendance was dwindling. All told, the opposition contends that more than 50 seats were stolen.

On Saturday, Mugabe summoned reporters and representatives from the state-owned television station, the only channel most Zimbabweans can receive.

The United States, the European Union and every major human rights group active in southern Africa had already denounced the poll as badly tainted. But Mugabe had won the support of South Africa and other important neighbors, and he appeared utterly at ease as he boasted of his party's triumph. He parried with apparent relish with foreign journalists who -- except during a two-week stretch before the elections -- he had harangued and threatened with jail if they dared enter his country.

"Are you frightened?" he challenged them, smiling as he emerged onto the front patio of his elegant residence and sat down at a stately wooden table between two life-size stuffed lions. He then suggested, with a widening grin, that he shared the lions' temperament. "They don't bite, these two."

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