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Zimbabwe's President Conducts Interview with Western Media Outlet - 2004-05-24

In his first extensive interview with a western news media outlet in four years, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe insisted to Britain's Sky News television Monday that contrary to various critical international assessments, his people will not starve this year. He also defended his human rights record and he singled out British Prime Minister Tony Blair as the major cause of the economic problems facing Zimbabwe.

President Mugabe reacted angrily in the Sky News interview to the assertion that Zimbabwe would not be able to feed all its people this year.

Mr. Mugabe said that based on his government's estimates, Zimbabwe should produce a bumper corn crop this year of 2.3 million tons, a figure highly disputed by international food monitors. He insisted that other countries needed food aid more than Zimbabwe.

?Why is WFP [the United Nations' World Food Program] wanting to feed us when we are saying, We are not hungry?? he asked. ?It should go to hungrier people, hungrier countries than ourselves. They need the food and we urge it to go and do good work there.?

The Zimbabwean president, who was re-elected in 2002, stood by his controversial land reform program, which has seen many white-owned farms seized for redistribution to landless blacks. In the Sky News interview, Mr. Mugabe labeled white farmers mere actors.

He did acknowledge that the country has faced tough economic times, such as soaring inflation, but he said conditions are changing for the better.

?If you make mistakes and do not correct them, then you will not develop at all,? he said. ?But the mistakes must not be in the majority, from the majority of your thinking, of your actions, of your deeds. They must be, you know, just the exception to the positive, the affirmative and correct actions you take. Otherwise, you are a mistaken person the whole way through and you will become a devil then, but I do not think I have been that devil.?

The 80-year-old leader also strongly hinted that he would not run for re-election in 2008, although when pressed, Mr. Mugabe refused to say whom he would like to see succeed him.

MUGABE: For as long as the people want me to stay, but not for eternity of course.

REPORTER: Would you stand in the next election?

MUGABE: I do not think so. I also want to rest and do a bit of writing.

President Mugabe struck out at a number of world leaders, but most of his anger was directed at British Prime Minister Blair.

He accused Mr. Blair of working behind the scenes to create most of the problems facing his country.

?He has opposed my election,? he added. ?He has called upon nations to, in fact, regard Zimbabwe as a lawless country, a country where democracy is not respected, where there is no rule of law, where human rights do not exist. And, all that is a lie.?

Elsewhere during the Sky News interview, Mr. Mugabe strongly dismissed claims of systematic human rights abuses in his country.