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Zimbabwe's President Launches Re-Election Campaign - 2002-02-01

In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe has launched his campaign for re-election to another five year term with an attack on his main challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change. Speaking to a crowd of 8,000 people Friday, Mr. Mugabe accused the opposition leader of being a front for British colonialism.

The 77-year-old president flew in his personal helicopter to Murewa, in the northeast of the country, for his first rally ahead of elections March 9-10. The rural area, 150 kilometers north of Harare, is considered part of the heartland of the ruling ZANU-PF party.

Much of Mr. Mugabe's hour-long speech focused on Morgan Tsvangirai. He accused the 49-year-old former trade unionist of "masquerading as a white man" and being controlled by Britain.

When senior members of the local community complained about the poor conditions of the roads, Mr. Mugabe claimed this was because Britain, the former colonial power, had deliberately neglected the area. Mr. Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980.

The Zimbabwean leader told the rally the government would not abandon what he called the land reform program, a reference to the nationalization of virtually all white-owned commercial farmland. The government says the land is being given to poor people.

The soldiers and police guarding Mr. Mugabe left journalists for foreign news organizations at the rally alone. On Thursday, Zimbabwe's parliament approved a bill that restricts foreign correspondents and places new controls on independent local media.

Human rights organizations have expressed concern that the government would use the Access to Information Act to harass and arrest foreign correspondents.

The new law makes it compulsory for all journalists in the country to get a government license to work. Offenders face up to two years in jail.

Meanwhile, the opposition MDC says that another two of its supporters have been killed in the last 48 hours. Human rights agencies say that at least 15 people, almost all of them opposition supporters, were killed in political violence in January.