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Glimmers of Defiance In a Wary Zimbabwe

Over the next few minutes, Mugabe dismissed charges of cheating as "excuses" that were not "sporting." He warned that any attempt by the opposition to protest the results would be met with "conflict, serious conflict." He said the government had "two or three weapons" it might deploy to calm unrest in a nation where demonstrations are illegal unless the police have granted prior, written permission.

Yet evidence that Mugabe's popularity was waning did not disappear even as the necessities of daily living reasserted themselves.

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)

At a fast-food chicken restaurant in downtown Harare, a 25-year-old woman wearing an unusually well-made outfit was eating lunch. When a foreign journalist sought her opinion of the election results, she warily agreed to speak and went on to defend the results as free and fair, echoing Mugabe's contentions. Yet she declined to say how she had voted.

When asked about her profession, the woman identified herself as a government worker.

What kind of government worker? "Intelligence."

She worked, she explained, as an officer for the Central Intelligence Organization, Mugabe's feared secret police, whose ranks swelled this election year.

The journalist then joked that, given her job, he had a good guess how she had voted.

The woman fixed him with a gaze suggesting that in Zimbabwe things are not always as they seem, and said, "No, you don't."

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