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Mugabe defies age to campaign

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- President Robert Mugabe is set to continue his busy election campaign defying his 78 years.

Mugabe, who is looking to extend his 22 years in power, said his ZANU-PF party is "wide awake" to the challenge of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The president faces his toughest challenge yet from Morgan Tsvangirai's party in this weekend's elections.

Speaking in the town of Gokwe, Mugabe said ZANU-PF's complacency in the past had allowed the MDC to make big gains in the 2000 parliamentary polls.

"But now we are wide awake. We won't let MDC win in the presidential election," he said in a speech quoted by the state-owned Herald newspaper on Tuesday.

Mugabe, who is able to cover large areas of the Zimbabwe countryside in his private helicopter, is expected to take his anti-British message to three rural areas on Tuesday.

Suspension of Zimbabwe's Commonwealth membership is deferred until election observers report. CNN's Charlayne Hunter-Gault reports (March 5)

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Mugabe has used the anti-British card in his electioneering, accusing UK Prime Minister Tony Blair of interfering in Zimbabwe's affairs.

Britain, along with Australia and New Zealand, had attempted to get the recent meeting of Commonwealth leaders in Australia to immediately take action against Mugabe's regime for its alleged intimidation of voters.

Tuesday's Herald headlined one story "Why UK lost Battle of Brisbane."

Blair is still unhappy that any decision on possible action has been delayed until after the March 9-10 elections when a Commonwealth observer team reports back.(Full story)

Blair said on Tuesday that failure to act against election violations in Zimbabwe would jeopardise economic support for the world's poorest continent.

"If there is any sense in which African countries appear to be ambivalent towards good governance -- that is the one thing that will undermine the confidence of the Western world in helping them," Blair told BBC radio.

ZANU-PF is campaigning on the platform that the MDC and Tsvangirai are mere stooges of Britain and Zimbabwe's tiny white minority of about 70,000 in a population of 13 million.

"We are not fighting Mr. Tsvangirai but Britain's Tony Blair," Mugabe told the rally on Monday.

Mugabe, who is frequently seen at rallies clenching his fist in imitation of the party symbol, took the image further at a rally of his ruling ZANU-PF on Monday to show how fit he is for a political fight.

He challenged Tsvangirai he could knock him out with one punch in a boxing match.

"This fist is 78-years-old and has 78 horsepower that could send Mr Tsvangirai to the ground if we were to get into the ring," Reuters reported him as saying.


• Zimbabwe avoids sanctions
March 4, 2002
• Tsvangirai's envoy talks 'halted'
March 04, 2002

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