Zimbabwe vote 'free' and 'credible': African Union

Zimbabwe's vote was free and credible, the African Union's chief observer said Friday, despite problems reported over missing ballot papers and large numbers of people being turned away from polling stations.

"This election is free... credible," said former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who is heading the AU monitoring mission.

The AU's preliminary report voiced "great concern" about voters being turned away and about the electoral roll.

"There are incidences that could have been avoided, but all in all we do not believe that these incidents will amount to the results not reflecting the will of the people," said Obasanjo.

Early results have given President Robert Mugabe's party an overwhelming lead but his rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has criticized Wednesday's vote as a "huge farce".

The AU said more than two million extra ballots were printed — some 35 percent above the 6.4 million voters expected to vote and against international best practice.

"The mission notes with great concern the high incidence of voters who were turned away at polling stations," Aisha Abdullahi, AU political affairs commissioner said, reading the mission's observations.

Additionally, "a significant number" of local government ballot books has missing ballot papers and were not serially identified, she said.

The final electoral roll was only made publicly available two days before the poll, which was "rather late for meaningful inspection and verification", she said.

No evidence was found of hard copies being handed to candidates as legally required

"The mission notes serious concerns raised by some stakeholders regarding the duplication and omission of voters names which must not be allowed, casting doubt on the possible outcomes of the elections," said Abdullahi.

About 600 foreign election observers, mainly from African bodies, were accredited in addition to 6,000 local observers.