Zimbabwe prays for peace after poll violence

Clergymen led prayers for peace as Zimbabweans went to church for the first Sunday service since this week's historic elections, marred by deadly violence and fraud claims.

"Zimbabwe right now needs peace, it needs unity. Zimbabwe is known for peace, it's a peace-loving nation," said worshipper Emmanuel Masvikeni, 46.

"People dying to prop up the politicians... is not justified," Masvikeni told AFP in front of the imposing carved stone facade of Harare's Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral.

"I was quite disturbed, taken aback and very worried," he said of Wednesday's unrest.

Religious leaders in the Christian-majority country called for calm after troops in central Harare opened fire on demonstrators protesting alleged electoral fraud, killing six.

Inside Sacred Heart, worshippers bathed in the light of the green stained-glass windows sang songs of praise in the local Shona language while dancing in the aisles.

In the pews, young men in new Converse sneakers rubbed shoulders with pensioners in blazers and bright patterned dresses.

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"It is the church that encourages unity among us citizens of the country -- despite their affiliations," said accounting student Clemence Matare, 24.

The sermon, delivered to several hundred tightly-packed worshippers, was on the theme of peace-making and moving on from the past.

"What I heard today was; let God bring peace, let God bring stability to the country of Zimbabwe," said church-goer Patricia Gladys Thompson, a 54-year-old accountant.

"I'm very much optimistic the leadership will change and Zimbabwe will change for the better."

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been declared winner of Zimbabwe's first elections since autocrat Robert Mugabe was ousted by the military last year.

He has insisted the elections were free and fair, vowing to turn a page on 37 years of iron-fisted rule under Mugabe and revive the shattered economy.

The post-election crackdown sparked international condemnation, and Mnangagwa has pledged an independent investigation.

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