Mugabe marks Zimbabwean independence as elections loom | Africa | DW | 18.04.2013
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Mugabe marks Zimbabwean independence as elections loom

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe marked the 33rd anniversary of his country's independence from the UK with a call to Zimbabweans to shun violence ahead of elections expected later this year.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe gestures as he speaks during an event marking his 89th birthday at Chipadze stadium in Bindura, about 90 km (56 miles) north of the capital Harare March 2, 2013. Addressing a rally to mark his 89th birthday last week, Africa's oldest leader denied accusations by the rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai that ZANU-PF was playing dirty ahead of the presidential and parliamentary polls. REUTERS/Philimon Bulwayo (ZIMBABWE - Tags: POLITICS ENTERTAINMENT ELECTIONS)

Robert Mugabe

Speaking at a rally in Harare, 89-year-old Mugabe said Zimbabwe was now due to hold "harmonized elections" and he wished to urge the nation to "uphold and promote peace."

He told party leaders to avoid exhorting their followers to attack opponents and he had ordered the police to get tough on the perpetrators of political violence.

"You are all Zimbabweans," Mugabe told the celebrations attended by government officials, including Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, his rival and reluctant partner in a friction-ridden coalition government.

New constitution

"Go and vote your own way. No one should force you to vote for me," said Mugabe, whose ZANU-PF party was largely blamed for most of the violence seen during the last elections in 2008.

People queue to vote in a referendum at a polling station in Harare March 16, 2013. Zimbabweans began voting on Saturday in the referendum expected to adopt a new constitution that would clip presidential powers and lead to an election that will decide whether Robert Mugabe extends his three-decade rule. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of his rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai are supporting the draft charter, making the vote almost a rubber stamp exercise. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo (ZIMBABWE - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

Observers described the referendum on a new constitution for Zimbabwe as credible.

"I urge all our people to replicate the peaceful and tranquil environment which characterized the referendum last month," the Zimbabwean president added.

Zimbabwe endorsed a new constitution in the March referendum, which was hailed by observers as credible.

Mugabe wants fresh elections to be held by June, but Finance Minister Tendai Biti has said the country could not afford to fund the vote. Another Zimbabwean government official, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, said on Wednesday a request for financial assistance from the United Nations had been withdrawn, because of the conditions attached to the funding.

Partial lifting of sanctions

Western powers slapped sanctions on Mugabe and senior ZANU-PF officials in 2002 following reports of human rights abuses and vote rigging.

Last month the EU eased those sanctions, suspending an assets freeze and visa ban against most Zimbabwean firms and individuals.

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence, said on Thursday Zimbabwe welcomed "the re-engagement efforts recently initiated by Britain and the European Union and now recently by the United States."

Gefangene im Harare Central Remand Gefängnis, Harare, Zimbabwe, März 2013 (Photo: Columbus Mavhunga)

Prisoners in Harare Central. Zimbabwe faces persistent criticism from rights groups.

The United Kingdom ceremoniously granted Zimbabwe independence on 18 April 1980 in accordance with the Lancaster House Agreement which was signed in London in December 1979. Mugabe was among those who participated in the negotiations.

For some Zimbabweans the independence celebrations, which will continue into the weekend, have a hollow ring to them.

Jenni Williams is an activist with the rights group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). She told DW "whenever I hear the word independence (day) I can't forget 2010. I spent independence day in a hell called Harare Central (police station) where I was held for seven days."

Williams said she had been detained by police several times after demonstrating against the breakdown of human rights in Zimbabwe.

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