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28.02.2009 Zimbabwe

Lavish birthday bash for Mugabe

By BBC
Lavish birthday bash for Mugabe


Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has been marking his 85th birthday at a lavish party paid for by supporters.

The backers raised $250,000 (£176,000) for the event in Chinhoyi, north-west of the capital, Harare.

The event comes days after Zimbabwe asked other African countries for $2bn (£1.4bn) to rescue its failing economy.

Mr Mugabe told the rally in Chinhoyi there would be "no going back" on planned and already executed seizures of land owned by white farmers.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal in Namibia had no right to intervene on the farmers' behalf, he said.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the new prime minister and former opposition leader, did not attend the celebrations despite earlier indications that he might.

His spokesman, George Charamba, told Reuters news agency he had opted out of the event after realising it had been organised by Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.

"People should not read this as a snub - he excused himself," Mr Charamba said.

Mr Mugabe turned 85 on 21 February but his party is being held a week later.

SADC 'nonsense'
Mr Mugabe said neither white farmers who had lost their land nor those whose land was about to be seized would regain it.

"Farms will not be returned back to former farmers," he told the audience.

"Some farmers went to the SADC... but that's nonsense, absolute nonsense, no-one will follow that.

"We have courts here in this country, that can determine the rights of people. Our land issues are not subject to the SADC tribunal."

In November, the tribunal ruled that Zimbabwe's plans to seize dozens of white-owned farms were illegal under international rule and should be halted immediately.

The birthday celebrations come as Zimbabwe struggles with the world's highest inflation, food shortages and a cholera epidemic which the World Health Organisation says has killed 3,894 people since August last year.

There have been more than 84,000 reported cases, says the WHO.

More than half the population is believed to need food aid, while just 10% of adults have a regular job.

John Makumbe, a political analyst and critic of Mr Mugabe, said that to stage such extravagant celebrations when so many people were suffering was "obscene and a sign of an insensitive leadership".

"In a normal country this kind of party would not be taking place in this kind of environment where so many people have no food," he added.

Mr Tsvangirai - who was sworn in two weeks ago in a unity government with Mr Mugabe ending months of political deadlock - has said it will cost as much as $5bn to fix Zimbabwe's economy.

The country has asked for $2bn in emergency aid to revive public services and the business sector.

Following a two-day meeting of regional ministers in Cape Town, South Africa, members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union pledged to "pursue measures in support of Zimbabwe's economic recovery programme".

But Western donors have said they are waiting for proof that the unity government is really working before sending in funds.

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