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Mugabe Warns Zimbabwe Opposition Against Mass Protests - 2003-04-18


In an Independence Day speech Friday, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe warned the opposition not to organize any more mass protests against his 23-year rule. This year's anniversary celebrations come at a time of unprecedented economic hardship for the country's people.

Mr. Mugabe was speaking at Harare's largest sports stadium ahead of a military parade and a football match. He praised his land reform program, which has given about 97 percent of white-owned farmland to blacks, many of them his supporters. He called the program the key to Zimbabwe's sovereignty and the end of foreign control of the country's economy.

Three years ago, Mr. Mugabe ordered his supporters to take over white-owned farms. On Friday, he said the process is now complete. The program along with a drought have left the country disastrously short of food.

The president also had words of warning for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which last month called a general strike that paralyzed commerce and industry.

Mr. Mugabe charged that the strikers incited violence, and said those who choose the road of violence to achieve their political goals are evil enemies. He vowed that they will not be allowed to succeed.

Ahead of Independence Day, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, issued an Easter message calling on his supporters to "stand ready for the final call to reclaim our dignity and freedom." He promised them that, "there is gain at the end of pain."

Mr. Tsvangirai, who is under indictment for treason, has said there will be more such mass actions.

Zimbabwe is in its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1980.

Most staple foods are unavailable in shops; fuel is rarely available on the open market - even after the price was increased by more than 200 percent this week; and industry is struggling under electricity cuts of up to four hours a day.

Mr. Mugabe blamed the west for Zimbabwe's woes, particularly Britain and the United States, which he branded "imperialists" who want to recolonize Zimbabwe.

President Mugabe also briefly thanked the United Nations World Food Program for its assistance during the food shortage. Up to five million people, or nearly half the Zimbabwe population, are being fed by the U.N. agency, largely funded by the United States and Britain.