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Zimbabwe opposition trying to create anarchy: Mugabe

The president has accused the opposition of trying to foment anarchy.

world Updated: Apr 20, 2007 12:58 IST

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe accused the opposition of trying to foment anarchy on Wednesday as the troubled southern African nation marked the 27th anniversary of its independence from Britain.

In a keynote speech at a packed football stadium in Harare, Mugabe fired a fresh broadside at his foreign critics, including the former colonial power, and accused opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of being a puppet of the West.

The celebrations have been overshadowed by an economic meltdown and mounting political violence but 83-year-old Mugabe said that he would deal with "conspirators" trying to end his 27-rule with the full force of the law.

"We have observed how of late this conspiracy has attempted to transform into a militant, criminal strain, characterised by the puerile attempts of misguided opposition elements to create a state of anarchy," Mugabe said.

"As government, our message remains clear: that we will never hesitate to deal firmly with those elements who are bent on fomenting anarchy and criminal activities," added Mugabe, who has been in power since the former Rhodesia gained independence from Britain on April 18, 1980.

Mugabe, already subject to Western sanctions over allegations that he rigged his re-election in 2002, has come in for withering criticism from the United States and the European Union over the recent arrest and assault on senior members of the Movement for Democratic Change, including Tsvangirai.

The president, who has previously said that Tsvangirai effectively asked for his treatment, again swatted away accusations that he did not tolerate dissent.

"The opposition has all the room for its activities, provided they act legally. Once they start acting illegally they come up against the laws of the country," he said.

Tsvangirai was again accused by Mugabe of being used by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush as part of a so-called campaign to bring about regime change.

"Blair and Bush say they don't recognise the president of Zimbabwe, they don't recognise the elections of 2002 and then Tsvangirai says 'yes, I agree with you'. That's where we differ with Tsvangirai," said Mugabe.

"If only he had ideas to improve the welfare of the people we would gladly accept those ideas. The only idea he has is that Mugabe should go and I try Tsvangirai should come in."

Mugabe delivered his speech at a football stadium in Harare's oldest township Mbare, a traditional stronghold of his ZANU-PF party where the first independence celebrations were held 27 years ago to the day.

The 35,000-capacity stadium was full and security guards even had to turn away supporters at the turnstyles.

The crowds repeatedly chanted Gushungo, Gushungo, Mugabe's clan name. Many also held placards bearing messages of support for the 83-year-old and T-shirts bearing the slogan "Zimbabwe at 27".

Vice President Joyce Mujuru, who has been rumoured to be eyeing the presidency, was among those in attendance but heads of state from other southern African countries were noticeable by their absence.