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Zimbabwe's President Lambasts Food Aid Donors - 2002-07-23

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has sharply criticized food aid donors who he said are trying to impose their policies on his country. Mr. Mugabe made his comments as he opened the first session of parliament since his disputed re-election victory in March.

Mr. Mugabe said Zimbabwe needs food assistance for more than six million people.

But he said some humanitarian aid is coming into the country from donors who want to impose foreign economic and political agendas. And Mr. Mugabe said, "No one takes advantage of our stomachs to get to the soul of our sovereignty."

Britain, the former colonial power, and the United States have provided most of the money for food aid to Zimbabwe, which is distributed by the United Nations World Food Program.

Mr. Mugabe said Zimbabwe's current economic and food crisis was caused by what he called "machinations from Britain and the drought."

The United Nations office that coordinates humanitarian affairs said last week that "drought is a normal part of the cycle of Zimbabwe agriculture."

But it also said, "This year is different from a normal drought." The U.N. agency said a major cause for the decline in Zimbabwe's economy is the seizure of white-owned commercial farms by supporters of President Mugabe.

In his speech, Mr. Mugabe rejected the U.N. criticism, telling parliament that his program of "agrarian reform has been an unparalleled success."

Minutes before the president arrived for his speech, members of parliament from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change walked out in protest, saying Mr. Mugabe is not the legitimate leader of Zimbabwe.

The center of Harare was closed for the ceremonies marking the opening of parliament. Police banned an anti-government demonstration and there was a heavy police presence.