Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Harare Thursday for a state visit and to open the annual international trade fair in Zimbabwe's second city Bulawayo.
Zimbabwe and Iran have close diplomatic ties, and President Ahmadinejad is getting a hero's welcome in Zimbabwe. Posters of him are plastered across poles and trees around the center of Harare.
It has been rare for Zimbabwe to receive international leaders in the last ten years and President Ahmadinejad is the first non-African person to open the annual trade fair since 1980 independence.
Shortly after his arrival Mr. Ahmadinejad was visiting an Iranian textile factory and other factories in Harare's depleted industrial sector.
The trade fair which he opens Friday is now largely a flea market, as most international exhibitors shun the event since Zimbabwe's economy began collapsing ten years ago.
President Robert Mugabe decided to invite the Iranian leader unilaterally, without consulting his political partner in the unity government, Movement for Democratic Change Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
The MDC described the Iranian leaders visit as a 'colossal political scandal".
The MDC also said that Mr. Ahmadinejad was in power with questionable legitimacy after his controversial election victory last June and that nine people who questioned the election results faced the death sentence in Iran.
The MDC said Mr. Mugabe "shared values" with the Iranian leader.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said it was worried that Zimbabwe was "still interested in making friendships with repressive regimes when Zimbabwe should be closing ranks with progressive governments."
Harare's only daily newspaper, the Herald, which supports Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, said Thursday the West tried to bully both Iran and Zimbabwe with "the might of its weapons of mass destruction."
The Herald also said the Iranian leader would strengthen trade and investment ties with Zimbabwe.