Zanzibar's opposition leader calls presidential elections unfair

Zanzibar's opposition leader condemned weekend presidential and legislative elections as unfree and unfair, speaking Monday after riot police fired tear gas and water cannons on his supporters. Sunday's balloting, following a campaign marked by violence and recrimination, saw voters on the "spice islands" choose between socialists who have ruled for more than 30 years and an opposition promising privatization and wholesale economic reform.

Opposition leader and presidential candidate Seif Shariff Hamad said some 80,000 opposition supporters were denied their right to vote in Zanzibar's third elections since multiparty politics were restored in 1992. Opposition officials have said 10,000 votes were enough to swing an election in this Indian Ocean archipelago with an estimated 1 million people, half of them registered to vote.

Hamad spoke after electoral authorities announced early results that showed the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi, or Revolutionary Party, taking nine seats in the main island and Hamad's party winning all the 18 seats in the second island, an opposition stronghold.

In several key opposition constituencies, police on Sunday trucked in hundreds of voters that local residents said should not have been allowed to vote. Poll results, which are required to be posted outside the stations, could not be found at those locations Monday and official results announced on the radio awarded those seats to the ruling party.

Results from one of the 50-seat House of Representatives races were nullified because of irregularities.

Earlier, citing reports from his own poll observers, Hamad had been upbeat. Riot police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse Zanzibaris celebrating what Hamad had called a clear early lead in the presidential and legislative elections.

The demonstrations began shortly after early morning prayers. Police arrested at least three men during a cat-and-mouse game with supporters of the opposition Civic United Front. More than a dozen people were reported seriously injured and two men were shot, opposition officials said.

Later, outside the Hamad's party headquarters, thousands of visibly agitated young men smeared petroleum jelly on their faces to mitigate the effects of tear gas in anticipation of more clashes.

There were no reliable exit polls and electoral authorities said full legislative results were not expected until later Monday. Presidential results may not be announced until Tuesday.

Hamad asked that presidential results be delayed until a meeting was held between his party, the ruling party and the electoral commission to resolve the irregularities.

Most polling stations had indicated at least an 80 percent turnout. Some international observers said overall turnout was more than 90 percent, the AP informs.

Elections in 1995 and 2000 were marred by violence and fraud. Opposition protests over alleged fraud killed dozens in the wake of the 2000 elections. Islamic radicals could find an opening in this devoutly Muslim region if Sunday's vote is seen as flawed and proof that democracy cannot work here.