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Mugabe Vows To Press on With Electoral Constitutional Amendment

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, opening parliament's last session before the national elections set for March 2008, said Tuesday his government will press ahead with a constitutional amendment that would reshape the electoral landscape.

President Mugabe's statement followed his rejection of a demand by the opposition in South African-brokered crisis negotiations for a full rewrite of the constitution so as to ensure a level playing field for the next elections. It therefore raised questions as to the viability of the talks mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

As customary, Mr. Mugabe arrived at August House in a vintage Rolls Royce escorted by mounted police. Hundreds of supporters lined the streets to welcome him. Inside, members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change who have recently boycotted Mr Mugabe’s speeches took in his state-of-the-nation speech.

Mr. Mugabe said the government will not retreat from the campaign it launched earlier this month to reverse hyperinflation and lower prices, and will pass a controversial law providing for the nationalization of all businesses on behalf of the black majority. The "indigenization" legislation would oblige firms to cede a 51% stake to the state.

President Mugabe said Harare will expand its antiretroviral drug therapy program to treat 120,000 HIV-positive individuals from 80,0000 currently. The 83-year-old leader blamed the West for the nation’s economic distress, saying the seven-year slump and roaring inflation stem from targeted sanctions imposed by the United States, Europe and others. Most economists blame Harare's crash land reform program.

For a political perspective, reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with independent member of parliament Jonathan Moyo, a former information minister, member of the ruling ZANU-PF party and political scientist who said the opposition should debate the constitutional amendment in parliament and temper expectations as to what the Pretoria crisis talks can realistically deliver.

National Constitutional Assembly Director Ernest Mudzengi said he was pleased with President Mugabe’s speech because in his view Mr. Mugabe showed that he is not seriously committed to the South African-brokered crisis resolution talks.

Soon after Mr. Mugabe's speech, Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono announced he would postpone his mid-year monetary policy statement, due next week, saying he needed more time to examine the implications of the recently imposed government price controls and a supplementary budget that is now in the works.

Economist Daniel Ndlela said the postponement came as no surprise as Gono was left with little to say having been sidelined by the government in the price crackdown.

Gono at one point warned against the "unintended consequences" of the campaign to force down prices, though he said he did not oppose price controls in principle.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...