Loyalists praise Mugabe as he turns 85
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Loyalists praise Mugabe as he turns 85

State media and party loyalists in Zimbabwe praised President Robert Mugabe as he turned 85, with a lavish party and banquet planned for next week.

world Updated: Feb 22, 2009 09:50 IST

State media and party loyalists in Zimbabwe praised President Robert Mugabe as he turned 85 on Saturday, with a lavish party and banquet planned for next week.

Zimbabwe's defence ministry paid for an advertisement eulogising Mugabe - who has been ostracised by the international community - saying: "Like a mighty crocodile, you have remained resilient, focused and resolute against all the odds ... "

The state-owned daily The Herald said: "We should never forget that 50 of the 85 years, comrade Mugabe has been in the trenches slaving so that you and I could live a life of dignity."

Mugabe is Africa's oldest leader, and has been at the helm in Zimbabwe since leading the country to independence from Britain in 1980.

An extravagant party is planned for Feb 28, with Mugabe's Zanu PF party hoping to have raised around $300,000 to fund the celebrations, and have received pledges of cattle, goats and pigs to feed guests - despite around half of the population of Zimbabwe not being able to adequately feed itself.

On Saturday state-owned radio and television were awash with advertisements praising Mugabe.

"Long live comrade Mugabe we shall ever remember and never forget," according to the lyrics of one song played repeatedly on air.

Another song said: "God bless our leader, one day he shall liberate the whole continent of Africa."

Cabinet chief secretary and Mugabe loyalist Misheck Sibanda paid for an advertisement describing his Mugabe's "visionary leadership, selfless dedication to the ideals of national unity and empowerment of the indigenous majority".

A deadly cholera epidemic has afflicted Zimbabwe, whose bankrupt national economy is currently suffering from hyperinflation.

The cholera epidemic has claimed around 4,000 victims, whilst the UN says more than five million people need urgent food aid. A five-member UN team is expected in Harare in the next few days for a five-day visit to find ways of curbing the cholera epidemic and alleviating the food crisis.

The team is made up of experts from the World Health Organisation, the UN Children's Fund, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Food Programme.

Absolom Sikhosana, Zanu PF's youth leader, admitted earlier this week that raising funds for this year celebrations of Mugabe's birthday have been more difficult, although around $110,000 had already been pledged.

Once a hero to Zimbabweans and Africans for leading his country's struggle for independence from Britain, Mugabe has seen his domestic popularity wane over the past decade, and his international reputation hit rock-bottom as his security services used violence to repress political opposition and his people went hungry.

Last year he lost a presidential election to Morgan Tsvangirai, a defeat Mugabe's allies attempted to reverse in a second round of voting by killing dozens of opposition supporters and injuring hundreds of others.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai have since formed a coalition government, with Tsvangirai as prime minister.

First Published: Feb 22, 2009 09:48 IST