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On the surface, the process looked fair: Zimbabweans lined up peacefully and cast ballots Thursday in a parliamentary election that President Robert Mugabe wants to vindicate his nearly 25-year rule.

But opposition leaders and independent groups said the poll was stacked in Mugabe's favor.

"We are not happy with the way the electoral playing field has been organized," opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said as he cast his ballot.

Under international pressure to produce a credible result, Mugabe's government and party ratcheted down the bloodletting that has plagued previous elections in this southern African country. For the first time in years, Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party was able to campaign openly.

Mugabe was confident the gamble would pay off in victory.

However, encouraged by the drop in violence, Tsvangirai held out hope his party could muster enough support to claim Parliament. Preliminary results are expected Saturday.

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