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Zimbabwe court dumps poll challenge, paving way to grand Mugabe inauguration

Zimbabwe's top court on Tuesday threw out a petition to challenge the July 31 poll outcome, ruling that incumbent President Robert Mugabe was duly re-elected for his sixth presidential term since 1987.

The disposal of the petition filed by Mugabe's challenger -- outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai also paves way for the veteran leader's inauguration set on Thursday.

"We are happy because it has brought stability, it has brought certainty and we can all now move on," Mugabe's lawyer Terence Hussein told reporters.

The ruling did not come as a surprise as regional blocs which sent the bulk of foreign observers to the elections have largely endorsed the outcome. Western nations led by the US and Britain, however, maintain their serious reservations about the results.

Tsvangirai lost heavily to Mugabe who garnered 61 percent of the vote against his 34 percent. His Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) party also lost, with 23 percent versus 76 percent to Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.

ENDORSEMENT

In a unanimous decision, the constitutional court ruled that the July 31 elections were held in accordance with the laws of Zimbabwe and especially the Electoral Act.

Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, who delivered the ruling, described the process "free, fair and credible", echoing sentiments of the observers from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.

"The result of that election is a true reflection of the free will of the people of Zimbabwe who voted. The respondent Robert Mugabe was duly elected president of Zimbabwe and is hereby declared the winner of that said election," Chidyausiku said.

Tsvangirai had challenged Mugabe's election victory in the court, citing vote rigging by Zanu-PF party.

He, however, withdrew the court challenge at the last minute after failing to get key evidence from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to substantiate his rigging claims.

Chief Justice Chidyausiku said Tsvangirai's court application challenging the validity of Mugabe's victory was unique and could not be withdrawn at law.

Tsvangirai's party expressed disappointment with the ruling, saying Chidyausiku's pronouncement had rendered null and void the party's 95 other petitions challenging parliamentary results in the Electoral Court.

PROSECUTION

The MDC-T suffered another setback on Tuesday as Electoral Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu called for the Attorney-General Farai Mutamangira to seek prosecution of Tsvangirai's lawyers over alleged contempt of court for their verbal assaults of the judicial system.

Tsvangirai was reported to have said Zimbabwe's judiciary was an appendage of Zanu-PF and hence his efforts to quash Mugabe poll victory would, in his view, hit a brickwall.

The MDC-T expressed its frustration towards the courts after their request to obtain election data to support the legal challenge was not granted as fast as they demanded.

Mwonzora bemoaned the Electoral Court's recommendation to prosecute the lawyers.

"We find this is unfortunate, this is a very, very unfortunate development, in which people who appear before courts as lawyers have no security on themselves," he said.

Political analysts have expressed dismal views on MDC-T's future as it seemed to have fewer cards to play.

Mwonzora said the MDC-T party would continue to struggle for justice and ensure the rule of law was retained.

"We have said we will struggle against this injustice. Legally, the course has been terminated today. But diplomatically and politically, we have not run out of options," he said without elaboration.

INAUGURATION

According to the law, a new president must be sworn in within 48 hours after the courts cleared all legal challenges to the poll outcome.

Mugabe has set, as early as last Sunday, August 22 for the grand inauguration to be held in the massive National Sports Stadium on the western edge of Harare.

The government has declared August 22 a public holiday.

Acting Harare Metropolitan Provincial Governor Alfred Tome on Tuesday told reporters that about 80,000 people are estimated to attend the ceremony, which will also be attended by foreign dignitaries and spiced by entertainment brought by artists from Zambia, South Africa and even Jamaica.

"We have got a great event and the whole world will stand still on that day," Tome said, quoted by state media. "I am appealing to all people to come in large numbers."

"It is our day as Zimbabweans. There are no losers and winners in this thing, it is Zimbabwe that has won," he added.

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