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Zimbabwe President Extends His Stay in Office for Two More Years

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who is 82, says he wants to stay in office two years beyond his present term. Some observers believe he will stay in power for the rest of his life. Peta Thornycroft reports many economists say bankrupt Zimbabwe's economy cannot recover while Mr. Mugabe remains in power.

Ahead of the fractious ruling Zanu-PF annual conference, which began Thursday, President Mugabe has confirmed he will not retire when his term expires in March 2008.

He told visiting Canadian journalists, in an interview published in the Herald newspaper Thursday, he will retire some time, but not now, when the ruling Zanu-PF is in what he describes as a "shambles."

Eight out of ten of Zanu-PF's provincial executives voted, in advance of the conference, that the 2008 presidential election should be combined with the next parliament poll, due in 2010.

Previously, President Mugabe had indicated he would retire in 2008 to write books.

Several political analysts have been predicting that Zanu-PF is so divided over internal battles about who would succeed Mr. Mugabe, that it is inevitable he will extend his term.

There are several frontrunners who have indicated they want his job. Alleged financial and political scandals have surfaced about each of them in Zimbabwe's local press.

Mr. Mugabe came to power after a bloody civil war ended white minority rule in 1980.

Zimbabwe was one of Africa's best hopes. Mr. Mugabe inherited a reasonably efficient and developed infrastructure.

Within two years of independence from Britain, Mr. Mugabe sent the army into the southern Matabeleland Province and thousands of people there were slaughtered.

Mr. Mugabe oversaw the best education and health systems in Africa. Zimbabwe prospered.

In 2000, he suffered his first political defeat when the new opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, mobilized enough support to win a referendum opposing introduction of a new constitution.

Mr. Mugabe then sent in supporters to begin a long and painful eviction of more than 4,000 white commercial farmers and tens of thousands of their workers.

Since then, the agriculturally based economy collapsed. Zimbabwe now has the highest inflation rate in the world, at more than 1,000 percent per annum. It depends on food aid from the United Nations.

Economist John Robertson and several other financial analysts say that Zimbabwe cannot survive another three years of Mr. Mugabe in power.

They say a new leader needs to be found to introduce political and economic reforms and take Zimbabwe back into the international community, so it can access foreign loans to stabilize the currency and rebuild the shattered infrastructure.

Mr. Mugabe says it is logical for parliament and presidential elections to be run concurrently. Zimbabwe's parliament will have to pass another constitutional amendment to combine the two polls.

Only one Zanu-PF politician has indicated that she is not happy with this. A Zanu-PF executive in one province, lead by vice president Joice Mujuru, has not endorsed Mr. Mugabe's extension of power.

Earlier this month, Security Minister Didymus Mutasa said he believed Mr. Mugabe should remain in office for the rest of his life.