Zimbabwe's Mugabe denies wife 'power behind throne'

Harare (AFP) - Zimbabwe's 91-year-old President Robert Mugabe has declared he is still in charge, dismissing speculation that his increasingly powerful wife Grace is now running the show.

In an interview with the state broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) late Thursday, Mugabe said his wife's surprise rise to power in the ruling party did not mean she was now in charge of the party or state affairs.

Grace Mugabe last year became the leader of the influential women's wing in the ruling ZANU-PF party.

"She is not the power behind my throne," said Mugabe of his 49-year-old wife. "She has come into politics in her own right."

Grace Mugabe's surprise nomination to lead the women's league and be given a seat in ZANU-PF's powerful politburo sparked speculation that she could be aiming to succeed the ageing ruler in the event of his death or retirement.

During a series of rallies last year she denounced Mugabe's then deputy president Joice Mujuru, claiming she was fomenting factionalism and plotting to topple Mugabe.

Mugabe subsequently sacked Mujuru, replacing her with long-time ally and hardliner Emmerson Mnangagwa. Several of Mujuru's allies, including party spokesman Rugare Gumbo and cabinet ministers, met a similar fate.

Grace said at one of her rallies last year that as a Zimbabwean she had a right to aim for the presidency, lending credence to the speculation.

But Mugabe said in the interview: "Why should they (media) think that because of what she has done she is now the power?

"Because of the dynamism with which she came out it started giving people ideas with some saying she is now the power behind the party and she is now running what the president is doing.

"But we have the machinery of the party. We discuss. We decide...we share ideas."

The world's oldest president, Mugabe turned 91 on February 21. A massive feast to celebrate his birthday is lined-up for Saturday at a hotel in the resort town of Victoria Falls.

Mugabe played down his fall at the country's main airport earlier this month which sparked speculation about his physical fitness.

"In the house you slip, your foot is held by the carpet which is misplaced and so on," he said in his first remarks since the fall.

"I would want to see a person who hasn't fallen down. I don't see the reason why anyone should be surprised that the president has fallen."