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Mugabe Threatens to Nationalize Oil Distribution Firms

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has warned that his government might take over oil distribution firms, many of them foreign, to secure fuel supply in his country. Mr. Mugabe also used the speech on Saturday to remind Zimbabwean whites who thought they were still in Rhodesia to leave the country.

President Mugabe blamed the fuel crisis on those tasked with procuring it for the country which has faced irregular supplies of fuel and suffered intermittent shortages for more than two years.

Addressing delegates at the close of the annual conference of his ruling ZANU-PF party in Chinhoyi, a farming town 115 kilometers north of the capital Harare, Mr. Mugabe said he had entered into a deal with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi for his country to supply Zimbabwe with fuel.

"We agreed that Libya would supply us with fuel and we would pay them in Zimbabwe dollars which they would invest here in Zimbabwe in joint ventures in fuel sales, tourism, agriculture and that they would buy foodstuffs from Zimbabwe," he said.

But he blamed on "those we work with" of "dragging their feet" in the implementation of the Libyan deal while buying fuel from other countries using foreign currency of which there is a shortage in Zimbabwe.

Earlier this week the state daily newspaper The Herald accused officials of the national oil procuring company the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe, ministry of finance and central bank officials of benefiting from oil purchases by using foreign currency.

The president said the Libyans got offended and started demanding payment in foreign currency. Up to now the government has blamed the shortages on "logistical problems," hoarding by consumers and oil companies holding back supplies in anticipation of price rises.

Mr. Mugabe said his government had been foolish since independence 22 years ago by procuring fuel for the major western oil companies that in turn made big profits. He challenged the companies to use their own money to import fuel and stop relying on government. Otherwise, he warned that his government would consider taking their distribution points and compensate them.

President Mugabe once again attacked white Zimbabweans saying that most of them thought they were still in Rhodesia. "The Rhodesians should go to Rhodesia, I do not know where it is. [British Prime Minister] Blair will show them where Rhodesia is. Here, President Mugabe is president of Zimbabwe," he said.

The president also said that in the face of continued Western hostility Zimbabwe should look at strengthening its relations with other developing countries.