Mugabe's grip on power loosens; Zimbabwe president facing election defeat.
ROBERT Mugabe's iron grip on Zimbabwe is finally loosening after nearly three decades.
Amid fevered reports of face-saving deals speculation was growing that the autocratic president was on the verge of stepping down.
Virtually all observers are agreed that Mugabe lost the first round of voting on Saturday to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
The 84-year-old's Zanu-PF party has also tellingly not claimed victory in the crucial poll.
However, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has yet to release the full results, despite growing demands for clarity from countries including Britain and the US.
In his first public appearance since the election Mr Tsvangiri insisted last night his party had won, but denied any formal negotiations were taking place with Mugabe.
"There is no way the MDC will enter in any deal before the ZEC has actually announced the result. That's the legal position," he said.
"It is not confirmed by the ZEC. So any speculation about deals, about negotiations, about reaching out is not there."
Senior Zanu-PF figures have also rejected reports that a deal had been struck.
It is not clear if Mr Tsvangari won more than the 50% needed to avoid a second run-off vote.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a group of civil society organisations, said its random sample of polling stations indicated Mr Tsvangirai had won just over 49% of the vote and Mugabe 42%.
Mugabe came to power 28 years ago when Zimbabwe achieved independence, but the economy has been in freefall over recent years.
Inflation is running at more than 100,000%, there are food and fuel shortages and life expectancy has dropped to just 35 years.
SPECULATION GROWS: Robert Mugabe; CONFLICT: Ruling Zanu-PF supporters celebrate following the victory of one of their candidates in Harare and (right) a newspaper reader scanning results in the south-western city of Bulawayo