HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's opposition accused President Robert Mugabe on Thursday of carrying out a de facto coup to stay in power and said pro-democracy activists were in danger of their lives.
Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai said Mugabe, who has held power since independence in 1980, would be ousted with the help of other African nations.
"We'll manage to get Mugabe out. Mugabe is being deserted. No one wants to touch Mugabe in the region now. Eventually, we will ease him out," Tsvangirai told Time Magazine.
He spoke ahead of an emergency southern African summit called for Lusaka at the weekend to discuss growing fears the post election deadlock could lead to bloodshed in Zimbabwe, already suffering economic collapse.
Tsvangirai's MDC accuses Mugabe, 84, of prolonging a long delay in issuing the results of a March 29 presidential election while he organises a violent response to his biggest defeat since taking power after independence from Britain.
Mugabe's ZANU-PF party lost control of parliament for the first time in the election but no results of the parallel presidential vote have been issued.
"This is, in a sense, a de facto military coup. They have rolled out military forces across the whole country, to prepare for a run-off and try to cow the population. It's an attempt to try to create conditions for Mugabe to win," Tsvangirai said.
MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti told a news conference in Johannesburg: "Quite clearly the situation at home is volatile. The lives of all pro-democracy actors are not safe".
Biti denied reports that Tsvangirai, who has visited regional powerhouse South Africa to discuss the crisis, was seeking asylum abroad. He said he would advise him against returning home because of the dangers "but he is his own man".
Human Rights Watch said the Lusaka summit was the region's "last real chance" to resolve Zimbabwe's crisis and accused the ruling ZANU-PF party of increasing assaults on opposition activists and polling agents since the election.
The U.S. based organisation said it had "received credible information of dozens of ... attacks by ZANU-PF supporters."
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the ruling party was preparing for a runoff after its tallies showed neither Tsvangirai nor Mugabe won the required absolute majority.
The MDC has rejected both a runoff and ZANU-PF attempts to have at least 14 seats recounted in the parliamentary vote. It says Tsvangirai has won and should immediately end Mugabe's 28-year rule.
A South African government spokesman said that President Thabo Mbeki will attend Saturday's summit, which was called by Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, chair of SADC (Southern African Development Community).
Tsvangirai said he would try to persuade SADC leaders to ask Mugabe to step down.
SADC has been criticised in the past for failing to pressure Mugabe despite the economic collapse in Zimbabwe, now suffering the world's highest inflation, chronic shortages of food and fuel and a near worthless currency.
Mwanawasa's summit call came after Jacob Zuma, leader of South Africa's ruling African National Congress, said the poll results must be released, signalling a more robust reaction to the crisis than Mbeki who has insisted on "quiet diplomacy" rather than overt pressure.
"We urge all parties to respect the will of the people, regardless of the outcome, and to proceed within the requirements of the law," South Africa's SAPA news agency quoted Zuma as saying on Thursday.
The long delay in issuing results has dashed hopes of quick action to turn round a ruined economy that has sent millions of refugees fleeing to neighbouring SADC countries.
The official inflation rate is 100,580 percent but analysts believe the real level is much higher. An independent Zimbabwean newspaper said last week that official figures for February showed inflation at 164,900 percent.
Investors fear that if the Zimbabwean political impasse continues, it could impact on other countries in the region -- especially South Africa, whose rand currency has proven vulnerable to political events in its northern neighbour.
Although the rand benefited last week because of optimism that the Mugabe era might be ending, traders said Zimbabwe was not having any effect now, with all eyes on the South African Reserve Bank which raised its key repo rate to 11.5 percent on Thursday because of a surge in inflation.
Traders said negative developments in Zimbabwe were generally discounted by the market but positive news could give the rand some support, although it was not a key driver so far.