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Zimbabwe votes in first election since Mugabe's ouster

Voters in Zimbabwe are choosing a new president Monday in the first election in 38 years without longtime leader Robert Mugabe on the ballot as the head of the ZANU-PF party.

Mugabe, 94, resigned in November under pressure from the military. His longtime deputy, 75-year-old Emmerson Mnangagwa, took over and is one of the leading candidates in the election along with the new head of the largest opposition party, 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa.

Ahead of the voting, Mugabe lashed out Sunday at ZANU-PF, the party he founded, saying it did not have his support.

"I cannot vote for those who have tormented me," said Mugabe, who invited journalists to his Blue Roof mansions in a wealthy Harare suburb. He spoke, slowly but uninterrupted, for more than two hours, as an aide intervened occasionally to prop up his slumping body with tiger-print cushions.

When asked directly who he would choose in Monday's poll, Mugabe demurred.

"I cannot vote for ZANU-PF," Mugabe said. "I cannot vote for those who have cause me to be in this condition."

He said ruled out several other candidates: "I have also said, Ma (Joice) Mujuru and Ma (Thokozani) Khupe don't offer very much. So there is Chamisa left."

Mugabe both directly and indirectly denounced his party and its new leader, saying, "it was a thorough coup d'etat" that saw him lose power.

He complained of his treatment over the last seven months, saying family members had been harassed and intimidated and bemoaned that his government pension amounted to $460,000 and two houses. His Chinese-built mansion, identifiable by its pagoda-style blue roof, he said, is falling down.

He also bemoaned the state of affairs in Zimbabwe, saying freedoms and rule of law have eroded since his departure. But critics and rights groups have repeatedly and credibly accused Mugabe's regime of human rights abuses, of stifling free speech, and of rigging elections. The U.S. and European nations put Mugabe and his top cronies on sanctions lists over those allegations.

Mugabe said he hoped the election would bring a new day for Zimbabwe -- which is the same thing many candidates, and many voters, are also hoping for.

"I have, during all this time, cried for a return, our return to constitutionality, our return to legality, our return to freedom for our people, an environment in which our people would be free."


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