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Zimbabwe Opposition Leader Launches Presidential Campaign

Zimbabwe's main opposition leader has launched his campaign for the upcoming presidential elections with a pledge to sweep President Robert Mugabe from power and revive the country's shattered economy.

Morgan Tsvangirai told a crowd of supporters in the eastern town of Mutare Saturday that Zimbabwe needs the international community to help it rebuild its economy. But he said the country cannot rely solely on outside help and must also look after itself.

In southern Zimbabwe Saturday, thousands of people have gathered for a separate rally where President Mugabe is expected to formally announce his bid for a sixth term.

Mr. Mugabe must contend with Tsvangirai, the head of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, as well as former Finance Minister Simba Makoni in the March 29th poll.

The president, who turned 84 Thursday, has been Zimbabwe's only leader since the southern African nation gained independence from Britain in 1980.

Earlier this week, Mr. Mugabe called Makoni a "prostitute," and last week, the ruling ZANU-PF party expelled Makoni for challenging Mr. Mugabe in the election.

Most political analysts believe Makoni provides Mr. Mugabe his strongest challenge ever for re-election. Some ZANU-PF areas in central Zimbabwe are believed to be backing Makoni.

The opposition blames Mr. Mugabe's economic policies, including the seizure of white-owned commercial farms, for wrecking Zimbabwe's economy and agriculture, leaving the population impoverished and hungry.

Mr. Mugabe, however, blames the nation's economic problems on Britain and other Western governments.

The African nation's economy has had serious problems for seven years with severe shortages of fuel, cooking oil and other basic commodities and widespread poverty.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.