By GILLIAN GOTORA
BULAWAYO— Zimbabwe’s 87-year-old president said Saturday he will not retire before proposed elections next year and will stay on also to lead the country against what he called a Western campaign for regime change.
President Robert Mugabe, addressing 6,000 delegates at the end of his party’s annual convention in the second city of Bulawayo on Saturday, said it would be “an act of cowardice” for him to step down. He has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.
“Luckily, God has given me this longer life than others to be with you and I will not let you down,” he said. The four-day convention passed resolutions confirming Mugabe as its sole presidential election candidate and called for polls “early next year without fail.”
Speaking in the local Shona language, he said he felt it would be wrong for him to leave now. The 30-month coalition with the former opposition needed to be “put to death” at elections. ”Let us now start preparing for elections and as we do that we are digging the grave of this monster,” he said.
His ZANU-PF party was under siege from Western economic sanctions that tried to dislodge it. ”I can’t leave you in such a mess. It would be completely wrong and a loss of confidence in myself. When the party is moving ahead, then I’ll say it is in your own hands,” he said.
Deep divisions have emerged in Mugabe’s party over his ability to remain in control, stop infighting and contest a rigorous election campaign. Mugabe has visited Singapore at least eight times this year for medical treatment. U.S. cables quoted on the WikiLeaks Internet site earlier this year cited close associates saying he has prostate cancer.
Speaking for 90 minutes late Saturday, Mugabe said the coalition had failed and opponents blamed the failure on his intransigence and pointed to his age as an obstacle. But, he insisted, some coalition members from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party took “a free ride” on the power sharing deal brokered by regional leaders after disputed and violence-plagued elections in 2008 to benefit from government perks.
“Are you ready to dig this grave? Have you got your picks and shovels ready?” he asked party loyalists. Of Tsvangirai’s party, he said “It’s money and pleasure they want, they want to be a happy lot. We are in an impasse, we are in deadlock. We can’t go on standing still.”
Other resolutions passed by the gathering blamed Western travel and banking bans on Mugabe and his loyalists for undermining the economy and called for Western aid groups and non-governmental organizations to be expelled if they followed the political goals of Western governments who want Mugabe ousted.
One resolution condemned the International Criminal Court at The Hague for bringing former African leaders — Charles Taylor of Liberia and Laurent Gbabgo of Ivory Coast— to trial while overlooking rights violations by Western leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another resolution said the U.S., Europe and other “white countries” were linking aid flow to poor countries by demanding they accept gay rights. The convention stopped short of setting a possible election date next year. Associated Press
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