HARARE - Zimbabwe's government vowed to crack down on opposition dissent after three people were killed when protests against alleged electoral fraud were met by live ammunition, denting hopes of a new era for the country.
Soldiers fired on demonstrators during opposition MDC party protests in downtown Harare, AFP witnesses saw, with one man shot dead in the stomach.
Monday's polls -- the first since autocratic president Robert Mugabe was forced out by a brief military takeover in November -- had been meant to turn the page on years of violence-marred elections and brutal repression of dissent.
But the mood quickly descended into anger and chaos as supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition declared they were being cheated in the election count.
Official results showed that the ruling ZANU-PF party had easily won most seats in the parliamentary ballot -- strengthening President Emmerson Mnangagwa's prospects of holding onto power in the key presidential race.
MDC supporters, who say their leader Nelson Chamisa won the vote, burnt tyres and pulled down street signs as protests spread from the party headquarters in the capital Harare.
Police confirmed the death toll of three, and Mnangagwa issued a statement blaming the opposition for the unrest and fatalities.
"We hold the opposition MDC Alliance and its whole leadership responsible for this disturbance of national peace," he said, adding the government "went out of its way" to try to ensure the elections were peaceful.
Mnangagwa (75) had promised a free and fair vote after the military ushered him to power in November when Mugabe was forced to resign.
In a late-night press conference, Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu warned that the government "will not tolerate any of the actions that were witnessed on Wednesday.
"The opposition... have perhaps interpreted our understanding to be weak, and I think they are testing our resolve and I think they are making a big mistake."
A credible and peaceful vote was meant to end Zimbabwe's international isolation and draw in foreign investment to revive the shattered economy.
The MDC, which accuses the election authorities of falsifying results, said the army had opened fire "for no apparent reason" leading to the deaths of unarmed civilians.