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Embattled Mugabe boosts workers' pay

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  • Zimbabwe's president announces "huge salary increase" for civil servants
  • Pay raise comes amid protests by teachers; weeks before general elections
  • Mugabe faces challenge to decades-long rule; country in dire financial straits
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(CNN) -- Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, battling skyrocketing inflation and a serious challenge to his decades-long rule, has announced "a huge salary increase" for his nation's government workers.

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President Robert Mugabe attends a rally earlier this month ahead of elections set for March 29.

Mugabe made the announcement while stumping for votes for the March 29 general elections, state media reported.

Under his rule, once-prosperous Zimbabwe has suffered an economic crisis with routine shortages of food, electricity and foreign currency. Unemployment is estimated at about 80 percent; the inflation in the nation of 12.5 million people is in excess of 24,000 percent.

Last month, Mugabe offered a massive salary increase to soldiers. And this week, he signed a law that hands over majority control of white and foreign-owned business to blacks.

The opposition has called the latter move a cheap political gimmick.

"Just yesterday (Monday), I was signing a new salary schedule of big salaries for teachers and civil servants," the Herald newspaper quoted Mugabe as telling a campaign rally in southern Zimbabwe. "I hope they will be happy, because we have worked out very good salaries."

Mugabe did not elaborate on the increase, but it was meant to appease school teachers who began staging walkouts in recent weeks.

At the rally, Mugabe also touched on several other populist themes:

  • The land reform program is not yet complete, he said, adding that the government would give out more land to needy people.
  • Mugabe launched the program in 2000, a month after his narrow election victory that June.

    That program sought to seize thousands of white-owned farms and give them to black Zimbabweans

  • A plan to redistribute land he said was stolen by British settlers more than a century ago.
  • Critics accused him of using that as an excuse to give the land to his cronies, which he denied.

  • He elaborated on the recent law that mandates that white and foreign business surrender at least 51 percent control of their operations to blacks.
  • "The outsiders can be our partners, but we refuse that they own our land. Blacks should also move in, not only as workers, we are tired of that. They must be owners, owners, owners also," he said amid applause.

  • He urged people to remain loyal to the ruling party that he said led them to independence from British rule in 1980.
  • Mugabe said countries such as Britain and the United States were fighting for the control of the country's vast wealth and the only way to show them that Zimbabwe would never be a colony again was to vote resoundingly for the ruling Zanu-PF party.

    "Let's not sell out those who died for this country," he said. "Let's not sell out our heroes."

    Since 1980, Mugabe, 84, has been the country's only ruler. In the coming elections, he faces two formidable opponents: a heavyweight within his own party and a leading opposition figure.

    Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai said this month that he and his party will participate in the elections.

    Mugabe survived a hotly contested presidential challenge from Tsvangirai in 2002, amid widespread accusations of vote rigging.

    The president's other challenger is former Finance Minister Simba Makoni, who recently announced his bid to unseat Mugabe and was promptly booted out of the ruling party. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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