Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe says he will seek another term if asked by the ruling party to do so, whether elections are held as planned in 2008 or delayed for two years, state-run media quoted him as saying.
Mugabe's current six-year term ends in 2008, but his ruling ZANU-PF party has proposed extending the 83-year-old leader's rule by two years through a plan to "harmonise" the presidential and parliamentary elections.
The move, however, has sparked opposition from senior party officials and prompted speculation that Mugabe, in power since Zimbabwe won independence from Britain in 1980, is afraid to face voters amid a deepening economic and political crisis.
"If the party says so, I will stand," the Herald newspaper on Monday quoted Mugabe as saying in an interview with a regional paper co-owned by the Namibian and Zimbabwean governments.
"Others are of the view that: No, let's have elections in 2008 and then shorten the term of parliament ... but whichever way they desire I will go along with it," said Mugabe, who is accused by critics of widespread economic mismanagement and human rights violations.
Zimbabwe, once one of Africa's most prosperous countries, is spiralling into a deep economic crisis marked by inflation over 1,700 per cent -- the highest in the world -- high unemployment and chronic shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency.
Mugabe, according to the newspaper, added that "our people are, from what I get now, tending towards an election next year rather than an election in 2010. That's what I am getting from quite a good many top leaders".
His comments were reported one day after opponents, including Zimbabwe's main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, were arrested and reportedly assaulted in the capital Harare while trying to protest in defiance of a ban on rallies.
Tsvangirai was severely assaulted in detention and had to be taken to hospital for treatment following his arrest, his lawyer said on Monday.