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Zimbabwe's opposition leader has accused Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party of “massive fraud” after it won what appeared to be a crushing victory in Thursday's parliamentary election.

Final results showed Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party took 78 of 120 contested seats against 41 for the MDC. One independent, purged former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, was also elected.

Taking into account an additional 30 seats nominated by President Mugabe, this would give Zanu-PF more than 100 seats, a clear two-thirds majority in parliament, which would enable it to amend the constitution without resort to a national referendum.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, despite running a well-organised campaign that extended its reach into Zanu-PF's rural strongholds, saw a net loss of 10 seats.

Non-governmental watchdog groups and the MDC claimed that Zanu-PF rigged the result by turning away record numbers of voters and tampering with returns, notably in the countryside.

Richard Boucher, US state department spokesman said on Friday it was “just another sign that this whole process has been seriously tainted.”

Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC's president, said: “This government has once again fraudulently betrayed the people.”

Mr Tsvangirai said he was “deeply disturbed” by reports of large discrepancies between the number of votes tallied and results released later.

The MDC leader named 11 constituencies where he claimed results did not tally with the assessment of the party's election agents.

In Manyame, a rural constituency near Harare where a Zanu-PF candidate won, the official Zimbabweelectoral commission announced a tally of votes about 10,000 higher than the number of votes cast, he said.

According to the ZEC, an average of 10 per cent of voters were turned away for various reasons country-wide. A western diplomat observing voting in one province said he saw 30 per cent of would-be voters turned away, largely young people who tended to favour the MDC.

“What appears to be emerging is a pattern of fraud in the elections that could have a significant impact on the outcome,” he said. Results were slow in trickling out yesterday, he added, a sign in past elections that “they were cooking the books”.

The European Union, the Commonwealth, and the US were barred from sending observer missions to the election, but more than 100 western diplomats obtained individual accreditation to monitor the vote.

Most observers in the country were from Africa, where attitudes toward Mr Mugabe are more tolerant, and missions are expected to judge the vote as free and fair.

Turnout was low for Thursday's vote, amid reports of intimidation of voters. Mr Mugabe's party holds an automatic 30-seat advantage as the president controls the appointment of that many MPs.

The MDC lodged unsuccessful legal appeals against the results of Zimbabwe's two previous elections.

The country’s police warned Zimbabweans against engaging in violence and said they were setting up roadblocks and stepping up patrols across the country in the wake of the elections.

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