HARARE (AFP) — Robert Mugabe faced mounting criticism Monday after beginning a new term as Zimbabwe's president, with African observers and much of the world denouncing his one-man election as violence-wracked.
Mugabe took the oath of office on Sunday in a hastily arranged ceremony at his official residence barely an hour after the electoral commission declared he won more than 85 percent of the votes cast.
The 84-year-old leader used his inauguration speech to appeal for "unity" among Zimbabwe's political parties -- an overture the opposition greeted with deep suspicion.
"Indeed it is my hope that sooner rather than later, we shall as diverse political parties hold consultations towards such serious dialogue as will minimise our difference and enhance the area of unity and cooperation," Mugabe said.
Later in the day Mugabe left Zimbabwe for an African Union summit beginning on Monday in Egypt, state media said, where his country's crisis was to feature high on the agenda.
Official results showed he won 2,150,269 votes against 233,000 for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who boycotted the election but whose name still appeared on ballot papers.
Turnout was announced at 42.37 percent, and 131,481 ballot papers were rejected.
Observers from the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) issued an uncharacteristically sharp rebuke to Mugabe hours after results were announced, saying the election "did not represent the will of the people."
"The pre-election phase was characterised by politically-motivated violence, intimidation and displacements," Angolan Sports Minister Jose Marcos Barrica, the head of the 400-strong team of observers, said in a statement.
A SADC mission which oversaw the first round of voting on March 29 was heavily criticised by the opposition after it gave the election a largely clean bill of health even before results were announced.
Marwick Khumalo, head of a Pan African Parliament observer mission, said it was hard to avoid the conclusion that the violence was state-sponsored.
No African heads of state were present for the inauguration, unlike previous election victories. Mugabe is Africa's oldest head of state and has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980.
The declaration of victory for Mugabe was derided as a "joke" by a spokesman for Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change.
MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa also reacted cooly to the proposal for dialogue, saying it was hard to trust Mugabe given the violence.
Mugabe was assured victory after Tsvangirai pulled out of Friday's presidential run-off, saying rising violence had left nearly 90 MDC supporters dead and thousands injured.
Tsvangirai won the first round on March 29 with 47.9 percent of the vote against 43.2 percent for Mugabe, just short of an outright majority.
Mugabe defied international and regional calls to postpone the run-off and warned against outside interference in his country's affairs.
He also shrugged off Tsvangirai's violence claims, saying in pre-vote rallies that thousands had been killed in other African elections but polls were held regardless.
Tsvangirai remained on the ballot despite announcing he was pulling out more than a week ago, with electoral commission officials saying it was too late.
But the opposition leader did not urge supporters to cast ballots for him and even told followers to vote for Mugabe if fearful for their safety.
There were widespread claims of voter intimidation, including residents being frogmarched to polling stations.
Many Western governments denounced the vote as a sham, and a number of African leaders criticised Mugabe for insisting on holding the ballot.
Western observers were barred from covering the election, but teams of African monitors were allowed in.
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