Harare, Zimbabwe – The number of people killed in Zimbabwe’s post-election violence has risen to six, according to police, as opposition leader Nelson Chamisa claimed victory before the release of official results in the tightly contested presidential poll.
The situation in the capital, Harare, remained tense on Thursday, as police raised the death toll in clashes between security forces and opposition supporters from three to six.
The electoral commission has until Saturday to release the full results of the presidential elections, but faces pressure to make them public as soon as possible amid escalating tensions. It is expected to start releasing later on Thursday.
On Wednesday, after electoral officials announced that the ruling ZANU-PF party won most of the parliamentary vote, opposition supporters who claim Monday’s poll was rigged took to the streets, burning tyres and throwing stones before riot police and the army intervened.
Witnesses told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that soldiers used live rounds to disperse the demonstrators. Security forces also used tear gas and water cannon at them.
Both the government and the opposition accused each other of instigating the violence.
Meanwhile, Emmerson Mnangagwa, incumbent president and ZANU-PF’s leader, said on Thursday he was in talks with the opposition to find ways to defuse the situation.
“We have been in communication with Nelson Chamisa to discuss how to immediately defuse the situation, and we must maintain this dialogue in order to protect the peace we hold dear,” Mnangagwa tweeted.
But after visiting wounded protesters at Harare’s Parirenyatwa hospital, Chamisa, the leader of the opposition alliance Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) ruled out a meeting with his opponent.
“I’m not going to meet with him (Mnangagwa). There is no meeting pencilled,” Chamisa said on Thursday.
He condemned violence as “unacceptable” and reiterated his belief that he was the winner of the elections.
“Our people are peace loving. Zimbabweans love peace but they are a very violent government. We respect the law but we are been abused for respecting the law,” he said.
“Mnangagwa is losing in all the constituencies where my MPs were not performing well,” added Chamisa.
“We have won this election and Mr Mnangagwa knows it – our supporters must be calm and anticipate massive celebrations.
For its part, ZANU-PF said it was “eagerly awaiting the announcement of the results” and appealed to the opposition “to ensure that their supporters maintain a calmness which existed when people went to vote”.
“We are obviously very pleased that the results announced by ZEC [Zimbabwe Electoral Commission] so far show that we achieved more than two thirds majority in the parliamentary elections,” said Paul Mangwana, the ZANU-PF secretary for legal affairs.
“We are expecting that these results become a reflection of what we are expecting from the presidential elections.”
Experts say both the ruling party and the opposition are responsible for the violence that erupted on the streets of Harare on Wednesday.
“It’s a show of leadership, but it’s been a failure on both sides. It’s not appropriate to use the army on civilian protesters,” Blessing-Miles Tendi, an associate professor at the University of Oxford, told Al Jazeera.
“There’s also a failure of leadership on the opposition’s part. If they’ve got the smoking gun, then they must hold the gun and quickly put forward concrete evidence to support their claims that the election has been rigged,” Tendi said.
On Thursday, the United Nations called on both sides to “exercise restraint” following the landmark polls that saw the ruling ZANU-PF party winning a majority of seats in parliament.
“We are concerned about reports that there have been incidents of violence in some parts of Zimbabwe,” Farhan Haq, UN deputy spokesperson, told reporters in New York late on Wednesday.
“We call on the political leaders and the population as a whole to exercise restraint and reject any form of violence while awaiting resolution of the disputes and announcement of the election results,” Haq said.
More than five million Zimbabweans registered to take part in the poll. Twenty-three candidates – all first-time contenders – contested for the presidency.
It is the first time since the end of white-minority rule that such a large number has competed for the country’s top seat.