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Mugabe plays down opposition protests


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(CNN) -- Recent opposition protests in Zimbabwe were "just some drama for the G-8" that "failed to impress anyone," embattled President Robert Mugabe said in an interview aired Sunday.

The 79-year-old Mugabe has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 but has drawn sharp criticism over many of his policies, including what many allege are human rights abuses targeting the opposition.

Last week's protests included work stoppages that brought major urban areas, including the capital Harare, to a standstill but a show of force by Mugabe's government all but prevented planned marches around the country.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is on trial for allegedly plotting to kill Mugabe, was arrested Friday on new treason charges as part of the crackdown

Mugabe's opponents consider his presidency illegitimate because of what they say was widespread voting irregularities in the March 2002 presidential election. International observers also criticized the poll.

The protests, organized by Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, were launched as the Group of Eight industrial nations met in Evian, France, with Africa as part of its agenda.

Tsvangirai: Disputes Mugabe's presidential election victory
Tsvangirai: Disputes Mugabe's presidential election victory

Tsvangirai had called Friday "the final push" in the mass action aimed at toppling Mugabe.

But Mugabe, in an interview with the South African Broadcast Corporation, said Sunday: "The final push has failed totally, if it was meant to be a push at all. It has not been a push of the government to create room for Tsvangirai to take over."

Mugabe labeled the demonstrations a publicity stunt timed to coincide with the G-8 gathering.

"It was, of course, erroneous in the extreme for the opposition to think they could come together, organize people, illegally, and get them to push the government out," he said. "Unless they knew it was not going to be a push, but just a matter of doing something that would receive the attention of the G-8."

Unfortunately, he said, it was "a drama in which the main characters have failed to impress anyone."

Mugabe also moved to dispel rumors of an early retirement, saying he would not go "in a situation where people are disunited."

Britain -- Zimbabwe's former colonial ruler -- and the United States must "refrain from exerting pressures" on his government, he said.

"But as long as there is that fight, I am for a fight," he said. "I can still punch."

The president blamed Zimbabwe's 269 percent inflation on "highly educated experts" who stick to "bookish rules and bookish norms" and said massive food shortages were the fault of drought and sanctions from Britain and other Western countries.

"The wonder is that we've managed to stay on our feet," he said. "We will never collapse. ... We will survive."

Critics have blamed the current crisis, particularly the food shortages, on the violent seizure of white-owned farms by landless blacks -- actions that have the support of Mugabe's government.

The land grabs, often violent by gangs describing themselves as veterans of the war for independence, have brought production to a standstill and Zimbabwe, once known as Africa's breadbasket is now called Africa's basket case.

Mugabe defended the land seizures, even when asked if the government could have encouraged the perpetrators of some of the more violent takeovers to pursue a more legal route.

"What they fought for was freedom, and it was freedom with the land as the major gain," he said. "The British had never used a legal route to seize our land -- it was seizures by settlers acting on a charter given by Queen Victoria.

"They got our land, occupied it by force," he said. "We are now going to take it by force."

Mugabe also accused the British and U.S. governments of reneging on promises to provide money to purchase land from whites after the agreement that led to Zimbabwean independence from Britain.


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