If neither Tsvangirai nor Mugabe wins more than 50 per cent of the vote, Zimbabwean law dictates there must be a second round  run-off within 21 days.

Although Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says its own calculations show Tsvangirai won just over the 50 per cent threshold, it says it is still prepared to compete in a second round if necessary.

Court hearing

On Saturday, a Zimbabwean court will hear an MDC application which would force the election commission to release the results of the presidential election.

"We want an urgent release of the results, within four hours of the court order," Nelson Chamisa, MDC spokesman, said.

Zanu-PF has claimed it has evidence that the opposition MDC had bribed electoral officials and said it would contest its defeat in the parliamentary elections.
 
Mutasa said the party planned to contest "16 or more seats", potentially enough for it to overtake the MDC.

"This the worst-run election I have ever experienced," Mutasa said.

Despite reports of splits in the Zanu-PF and hectic diplomatic efforts to persuade Mugabe to step aside gracefully, Mutasa was adamant the ruling party was fully behind the 84-year-old.
  
"We will take him and carry him wherever we go," he said after a five-hour politburo meeting.

Veterans' support

Mugabe also received a show of support from the country's so-called war veterans - many of whom were born after independence in 1980 -who vowed to "defend the country's sovereignty" in the aftermath of the vote.

Jabulani Sibanda, the veterans' leader, hit out at "illegal" MDC claims of victory and said "the spirit of our people is being provoked".
  
The MDC claims its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai,
has won the election [AFP]
"We will be forced to defend our sovereignty," Sibanda said after 400 veterans had staged a silent march through central Harare.

Although a run-off has to be held before April 19, some MDC sources allege Mugabe plans to extend that to 90 days to give him time to regroup.

"I am not aware of such a plan, but no matter how much they may want to buy time or beat up people or employ other dirty tricks, the people of Zimbabwe have already made a choice by voting for a candidate [Tsvangirai] that will take the country forward," Chamisa said. 
 
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the 49 members of the Zanu-PF politburo told AFP before Friday's meeting: "We had under-estimated the [opposition] threat, but this time we will properly strategise for  the run-off, and we will get it, without doubt."

Meanwhile, police were still holding two foreign journalists on charges of operating without accreditation despite the attorney general's office ordering their release.

Barry Bearak, a New York Times correspondent, and a 45-year-old British journalist were both detained on Thursday during a raid on a Harare guest house and later charged with breaching the country's media laws.