HARARE - President Robert Mugabe addressed the new session of Zimbabwe's parliament Thursday. All eyes were on the 92-year-old leader, watching for clues to the state of his health and listening for any response he might give to the recent protests against his government.
President Mugabe, looking visibly tired, started proceedings by joking with his officials that they had given him the correct speech this time. The president stirred talk of mental decline a year ago when he re-read a speech he had delivered in parliament a month before.
This year, he read out a list of laws that his government wants parliament to amend or introduce to be in line with Zimbabwe's 2013 constitution and to prop up the country's moribund economy.
Mugabe ended his speech by saying: "In conclusion I wish to remind you, honorable members of parliament, of your sacrosanct duty to enact laws and build institutions that promote development in an environment of peace and national unity. You not only have a duty to enact laws, but to also respect and adhere to them and to our constitution; in word, deed and spirit.
Zimbabwe opposition MPs, who had received death threats amid reports that they planned to protest while Mugabe spoke, remained subdued throughout the 30-minute speech.
Since July, the opposition has teamed up with civic organizations to hold protests against Mugabe and his 36-year rule of Zimbabwe. They accuse his government of failing to fix the economy and disregarding human rights.
Authorities have used force to disperse the demonstrations or prevent protesters from gathering to march.
On Thursday, Mugabe also said he wanted tighter laws to avoid what he called "leakages" in strategic areas of the Zimbabwean economy, such as mining and tourism. "Leakage" is when businesses do not declare their actual profits, depriving the country of tax revenue.
The problem has plagued the government for the past decade, since the discovery of diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe and the takeover of the fields by the military.