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Mugabe blasts rivals on Independence Day

world Updated: Apr 19, 2008 11:33 IST
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President Robert Mugabe devoted his first major speech since disputed elections three weeks ago to denouncing whites and former colonial ruler Britain.

The speech was an attempt to convince Zimbabweans that the cause of their political and economic troubles lies abroad. The scene, Zimbabwe's 28th Independence Day celebrations, had all the pomp and circumstance of old, with air force jets sweeping overhead and Mugabe, bedecked in a sash and medals, striding past soldiers at attention. But any private festivities were likely muted, prices for scarce food, gasoline and drinks have more than doubled this week.

"There are black people who are putting prices up, but they are being used by the whites," Mugabe said Friday, promising to tighten laws setting prices and crack down on, and possible take over, businesses who break the rules.

Whites "want the people to starve so they think the government is wrong and they should remove it," Mugabe said. The opposition and independent observers blame Mugabe's policies for the collapse of an economy that was once a regional breadbasket.

The often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms that began on Mugabe's orders in 2000 put land in the hands of his cronies instead of productive farmers, black or white. The farm invasions were a dramatic example of Mugabe's familiar tactic of demonizing whites. His anti-white rhetoric has struck a chord in a country that suffered under white minority rule until 1980, and where whites controlled much of the economy even decades later.

But after repeated attacks on the white community, the seizure of most white-owned farms and the near collapse of the economy, the white community's size and power, and perhaps the effectiveness of scapegoating it, have dwindled.

"Mugabe claimed on Friday that the opposition wanted "this country to go back to white people, to the British, the country we died for. It will never happen."

He spoke calmly for more than hour, with no visible signs of tiring. He spoke mostly in the Shona language, instead of English, unusual for an event attended by diplomats and other foreign dignitaries.

"Beware. Be vigilant in the face of the vicious machinations of Britain and its other allies," Mugabe said. "Yesterday they ruled by brute force. Today they have perfected their tactics to be more subtle. They are literally buying people to turn against the government. We are being bought like sheep because they have money and because we are suffering."

"The few passages in English included thanks to southern African leaders "for clearly articulating our case over the ... elections." The leaders held an emergency summit on Zimbabwe last weekend and issued a weak declaration that failed to criticize Mugabe.

"I want to thank South Africa in a special way for the role it has played in brokering our dialogue," Mugabe added in English Friday.

Zimbabwe is still awaiting official results of the presidential vote nearly three weeks after the election. Independent tallies suggest opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai finished first, but not by enough to prevent a runoff. The economy had been the main election issue, with the opposition blaming Mugabe for skyrocketing inflation and 80 per cent unemployment.

Now Tsvangirai's opposition Movement for Democratic Change, known as the MDC, is accusing Mugabe of planning to hold onto power simply by refusing to release the election results. The postelection period also has seen stepped-up violence against the opposition. Results released from legislative races held alongside the presidential votes give control of the parliament to the opposition for the first time. But that victory is threatened by a re-count set for Saturday.

Electoral officials say they have found problems with tallies in 23 constituencies, most won by opposition candidates. An opposition attempt to stop the re-count was blocked in court on Friday. Earlier this week, a Zimbabwe court rejected an opposition appeal for the immediate release of the presidential election results.

Courts in Zimbabwe are stacked with Mugabe loyalists. The holiday comes amid a government campaign of arrests, assaults and other intimidation designed to suppress political dissent following the vote.

The independent Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights says at least 200 people have been treated for severe injuries sustained in postelection violence. The group was investigating at least two reported but unconfirmed deaths. Mugabe accused others of plotting violence. While he named no one, his comments could signal a further government crackdown.

"We know some people are planning that there will be places where there will be violence, with people burning shops and cars," he said. "Those who are planning this, please stop it immediately, otherwise you are going to be in serious trouble with us."

In addition to the postelection violence, Mugabe's troops forces were accused of massacres in the western Matabeleland province during an armed rebellion after independence in 1980. His brutal countrywide slum clearance operation in 2005 also has been decried as a violation of human rights.

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