Zimbabwe’s new president talks unity; challenger alleges fraud

  • Zimbabwean President elect Emmerson Mnangagwa smiles while addressing a press conference in Harare ,Friday, Aug, 3, 2018. Zimbabwe's president says people are free to approach the courts if they have issues with the results of Monday's election, which he carried with just over 50 percent of the vote. President Emmerson Mnangagwa spoke to journalists shortly after opposition leader Nelson Chamisa called the election results manipulated and said they would be challenged in court. (AP... Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

  • Zimbabwean President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa addresses a press conference in Harare, Friday. AP PHOTO

  • Riot police break up a press conference by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday Aug. 3, 2018. Hours after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of a tight election, riot police disrupted the press conference where opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was about to respond to the election results. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) Jerome Delay

  • Zimbabwean President elect Emmerson Mnangagwa smiles after addressing a press conference in Harare ,Friday, Aug, 3, 2018. Zimbabwe's president says people are free to approach the courts if they have issues with the results of Monday's election, which he carried with just over 50 percent of the vote. President Emmerson Mnangagwa spoke to journalists shortly after opposition leader Nelson Chamisa called the election results manipulated and said they would be challenged in court. (AP... Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

  • Zimbabwean President elect Emmerson Mnangagwa smiles after addressing a press conference in Harare ,Friday, Aug, 3, 2018. Zimbabwe's president says people are free to approach the courts if they have issues with the results of Monday's election, which he carried with just over 50 percent of the vote. President Emmerson Mnangagwa spoke to journalists shortly after opposition leader Nelson Chamisa called the election results manipulated and said they would be challenged in court. (AP... Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

  • A press conference by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa gets underway in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday Aug. 3, 2018. Hours after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of a tight election, riot police disrupted the press conference where opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was about to respond to the election results. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) Jerome Delay

  • Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa leaves the Bronte hotel following his press conference in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday Aug. 3, 2018. Hours after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of a tight election, riot police disrupted the press conference where opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was about to respond to the election results. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) Jerome Delay

  • Supporters watch from the street a press conference by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa gets underway in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday Aug. 3, 2018. Hours after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of a tight election, riot police disrupted the press conference where opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was about to respond to the election results. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) Jerome Delay

  • Commonwealth election observers take position on a rooftop as a press conference by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa gets underway in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday Aug. 3, 2018. Hours after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of a tight election, riot police disrupted the press conference where opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was about to respond to the election results. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) Jerome Delay

  • Zimbabwean President elect Emmerson Mnangagwa addresses a press conference in Harare ,Friday, Aug, 3, 2018. Zimbabwe's president says people are free to approach the courts if they have issues with the results of Monday's election, which he carried with just over 50 percent of the vote. President Emmerson Mnangagwa spoke to journalists shortly after opposition leader Nelson Chamisa called the election results manipulated and said they would be challenged in court. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi... Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

  • Riot police enter the Bronte hotel, where a press conference by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was scheduled to take place, in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday Aug. 3, 2018. Hours after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of a tight election, riot police disrupted a press conference where opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was about to respond to the election results. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi) Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

  • Riot police surround journalists waiting for opposition leader Nelson Chamisa to attend a press conference at a local hotel in Harare, Friday, Aug, 3, 2018. Hours after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of a tight election, riot police disrupted a press conference where opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was about to respond to the election results. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi) Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

  • Zimbabwean President elect Emmerson Mnangagwa prepares to address a press conference in Harare ,Friday, Aug, 3, 2018. Zimbabwe's president says people are free to approach the courts if they have issues with the results of Monday's election, which he carried with just over 50 percent of the vote. President Emmerson Mnangagwa spoke to journalists shortly after opposition leader Nelson Chamisa called the election results manipulated and said they would be challenged in court. (AP... Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

  • In this image made from video, police arrive at a press conference by opposition leader Chamisa in Harare, Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. Zimbabwean police have broken up a press conference by opposition leader Chamisa, who rejects election results. (AP Photo)

  • Supporters of Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa celebrate in Harare Friday, Aug, 3, 2018. Mnangagwa won an election Friday with just over 50 percent of the ballots as the ruling party maintained control of the government in the first vote since the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi) Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

  • A supporter of Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa celebrates in Harare, Friday, Aug, 3, 2018. Mnangagwa won an election Friday with just over 50 percent of the ballots as the ruling party maintained control of the government in the first vote since the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi) Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

  • Riot police outside the Bronte hotel, where a press conference by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was scheduled to take place, in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday Aug. 3, 2018. Hours after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of a tight election, riot police disrupted a press conference where opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was about to respond to the election results. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) Jerome Delay

  • A vendor sells sponges near newspaper headlines on the streets of Harare, Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa won an election Friday with just over 50 percent of the ballots as the ruling party maintained control of the government in the first vote since the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi) Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

  • Supporters of Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa celebrate in Harare, Friday, Aug, 3, 2018. Mnangagwa won an election Friday with just over 50 percent of the ballots as the ruling party maintained control of the government in the first vote since the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi) Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

  • A ZANU-PF supporter celebrates the victory of Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the conference center where the results were announced, in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday Aug. 3, 2018. Mnangagwa won election Friday with just over 50 percent of the ballots as the ruling party maintained control of the government in the first vote since the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe. (AP Photo/Mujahid Safodien) Mujahid Safodien

  • ZANU-PF supporters celebrate the victory of their candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa after Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chairwoman Qhubani Moyo announced the results of the presidential elections in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday Aug. 3, 2018. Mnangagwa, of ZANU-PF party, was declared winner in the first vote after the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) Jerome Delay

  • Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chairwoman Qhubani Moyo, center, announces the results of the presidential elections in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday Aug. 3, 2018. Emmerson Mnangagwa, of ZANU-PF party was declared winner in the first vote after the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) Jerome Delay

  • ZANU-PF supporters celebrate the victory of Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the conference center where the results were announced in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday Aug. 3, 2018. Mnangagwa won election Friday with just over 50 percent of the ballots as the ruling party maintained control of the government in the first vote since the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe. (AP Photo/Mujahid Safodien) Mujahid Safodien

  • ZANU-PF supporters celebrate the victory of Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the conference center where the results were announced, in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday Aug. 3, 2018. Mnangagwa won election Friday with just over 50 percent of the ballots as the ruling party maintained control of the government in the first vote since the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe. (AP Photo/Mujahid Safodien) Mujahid Safodien

  • Riot police enter the Bronte hotel, where a press conference by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was scheduled to take place, in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday Aug. 3, 2018. Hours after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of a tight election, riot police disrupted a press conference where opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was about to respond to the election results. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) Jerome Delay

  • Riot police enters the Bronte hotel where a press conference by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was scheduled to take place, in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday Aug. 3, 2018. Hours after President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of a tight election, riot police disrupted a press conference where opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was about to respond to the election results. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) Jerome Delay

  • Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa addresses a press conference in Harare ,Friday, Aug, 3, 2018. Zimbabwe's president says people are free to approach the courts if they have issues with the results of Monday's election, which he carried with just over 50 percent of the vote. President Emmerson Mnangagwa spoke to journalists shortly after opposition leader Nelson Chamisa called the election results manipulated and said they would be challenged in court. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi) Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

Associated Press
Published: 8/3/2018 11:02:11 PM

HARARE, Zimbabwe — The two news conferences embodied Zimbabwe’s bitter political divisions: Riot police unsuccessfully tried to scuttle an appearance in a hotel garden by the opposition leader who said the country’s election was a fraud, while the president spoke about a “flowering” of freedom and bipartisan unity from a red carpet in an elegant State House building.

Friday’s dueling narratives unfolded a day after the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said President Emmerson Mnangagwa won the first election without Robert Mugabe on the ballot, ending a tumultuous week that began with optimistic scenes of peaceful voting, turned ugly with a deadly crackdown by soldiers in Harare, and ended with the prospect of a legal challenge over the result.

The vast majority of Zimbabweans want to escape the debilitating legacy of Mugabe, whose early promise as leader after independence from white minority rule in 1980 gave way to repression, economic paralysis and a string of elections marred by violence and rigging allegations. The events at the end of the week suggested that Zimbabwe is conflicted, clinging to old habits even as it tries to forge a more open future.

Police with helmets, shields and clubs surged into a hotel garden where dozens of journalists were waiting for a news conference by opposition leader Nelson Chamisa. They ordered everyone to leave and scuffled with some videographers and others who were reluctant to move and peppered the police commander with comments like: “What law has been broken? We’ve been threatened by your officers.”

Under international media scrutiny, the police eventually withdrew and a senior official from the ruling ZANU-PF party arrived to make amends, declaring above the heckles of opposition supporters that the news conference should proceed.

Margaret Jay, an election observer representing the Commonwealth group of nations, said the police action was another example of the “excessive use of force in political situations” by Zimbabwean authorities. On Wednesday, soldiers used live rounds to disperse opposition protesters, some of whom were throwing stones and damaging property in downtown Harare. Six people were killed.

When Chamisa arrived for his news conference, he condemned the killings and said authorities should be held accountable. He accused the government of raiding his party headquarters in a failed attempt to confiscate evidence of vote-rigging and promised to pursue “all legal and constitutional routes” to nullify Mnangagwa’s election win.

“We are not accepting this fiction,” said Chamisa, a 40-year-old lawyer and pastor who heads the Movement for Democratic Change party. “We want a proper result to be announced.”

Mnangagwa, 75, a former deputy president whose falling out with Mugabe hastened the former leader’s ouster, received 50.8 percent of the vote while Chamisa received 44.3 percent, according to election officials. Chamisa, however, said the opposition’s own count showed that he won and said his party would release evidence of vote-rigging at an appropriate time.

International election monitors have praised the freer political environment that led up to the election, in which the ruling party won a majority in parliament. However, they have also pointed out problems with the printing of ballot papers, the late release of voting rolls and the use of state media to promote the ruling party’s campaign.

In a scene contrasting with the melee at Chamisa’s event, Mnangagwa made conciliatory remarks in an appearance at his offices amid the clipped lawns of the presidential State House complex.

Wearing a scarf with the national colors over his suit, the president said there had been a “flowering of freedom and democracy” since 94-year-old Mugabe’s resignation in November, which followed a military takeover, pressure from his own ruling party to quit and large demonstrations. Mnangagwa said the election was free and fair and appealed to Chamisa for unity, while also saying the opposition leader was entitled to air his grievances in court.

“You have a crucial role to play in Zimbabwe’s present and its unfolding future,” he said. “Let us both call for peace and unity in our land.”

He said the violence in Harare on Wednesday was “unfortunate” and that the military intervened to save lives after police were overwhelmed by rioters. Mnangagwa, who is close to the military, said he wants an “independent investigation” of the unrest.

It was dusk when the news conference ended. The president walked past two stuffed lions and onto a lawn where he posed for selfies with jostling journalists.

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Follow Christopher Torchia on Twitter at www.twitter.com/torchiachris




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