Protests in Zimbabwe’s historic elections turned bloody on Wednesday as three people were shot dead during demonstrations over alleged vote fraud and President Emmerson Mnangagwa appealed for calm.
The victims died after soldiers fired live ammunition during opposition protests in downtown Harare.
The polls – the first since autocratic president Robert Mugabe was forced out by a brief military takeover in November – had offered Zimbabwe the chance of turning the page on a brutal chapter of its past.
But the mood quickly descended into anger and chaos as supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition declared they had been cheated.
“You said you were better than Mugabe – you are the picture of Mugabe,” shouted one young male protester wearing a white T-shirt.
Official results showed that the ruling Zanu-PF party had easily won the most seats in the parliamentary ballot – strengthening Mnangagwa’s prospects of holding onto power in the key presidential vote.
MDC supporters burnt tyres and pulled down street signs as protests spread from the party headquarters in Harare.
“Now is the time for responsibility and above all, peace,” Mnangagwa wrote on his verified Twitter account.
“At this crucial time, I call on everyone to desist from provocative declarations and statements.”
European Union observers had earlier said they found an improved political climate in the elections but an unlevel playing field and lack of trust in the process.
It called for transparency in the release of results.
EU chief observer Elmar Brok said there were “efforts to undermine the free expression of the will of the electors through inducements, soft intimidation, pressure and coercion to try to ensure a vote in favour of the ruling party”.
“On many occasions, preparation, financing, media and hopefully not in the counting – it was advantageous for the ruling party,” he said.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said on Wednesday that of 210 parliamentary seats, 153 had been counted with Zanu-PF winning 110 and the MDC Alliance 41.
“The results are biased, trying to give the impression that Zanu has won,” Lawrence Maguranyi, 21, an MDC supporter and university student protesting at the party headquarters, said.
MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, 40, said the presidential results were fraudulent.
“ZEC seeks to reverse the people’s presidential election victory. The strategy is meant to prepare Zim mentally to accept fake presidential results,” he tweeted.
The regional SADC bloc, in its preliminary report, said on Wednesday that the campaign and election had “proceeded in a peaceful and orderly manner and were largely in line” in Zimbabwean law.
It called for aggrieved candidates to refrain from any form of violence.