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Last Updated: Friday, 18 April, 2003, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
Mugabe blames UK for crisis
President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe remains defiant in the face of domestic and foreign pressure
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has again blamed the crisis in his country on Britain and its allies, in an address marking independence day.

He said land reform was now complete, despite obstructions.

"The land that for over a century we yearned to recover has come back to us," he told a rally in Harare marking the 23rd anniversary of independence.

But the BBC's Alistair Leithead, monitoring the speech from South Africa, says it was an unremarkable address from a man known for his stirring rhetoric.

The last time he made a speech he compared himself to a "black Hitler, tenfold".

The land that for over a century we yearned to recover has come back to us
President Robert Mugabe

This time, it was a more considered speech, blaming Britain for the economic crisis in the country, saying it and its allies wanted to re-colonise Zimbabwe.

Without naming the Movement for Democratic Change, President Mugabe again threatened that any opposition to his rule would not be tolerated.

"Those who reject democracy and choose the road of violence to achieve their political goals are the enemy of Zimbabwe," he said.

And he hit out at Western nations who have criticised Zimbabwe for its land reform programme as well as alleged human rights abuses.

Petrol station in Harare
Petrol can be hard to find in Zimbabwe

But he acknowledged that "we need to make the land productive".

People also gathered in Zimbabwe's nine provinces for independence day rallies.

But current economic problems and heightened political tensions have cast a shadow over the holiday for many.

This week, as petrol prices nearly trebled and inflation hit 228%, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change confirmed it would stage mass action to protest against alleged government corruption and incompetence.

Nearly eight million Zimbabweans face food shortages, a crisis President Mugabe's government blames on drought but critics pin partly on land reform.

'Nothing to celebrate'

Three years ago the government launched a controversial land reform programme, which has seen 300,000 black families settled on 11 million hectares of former white-owned land, according to official figures.

The MDC, meanwhile, has said there is nothing to celebrate this Independence Day.

It has complained that scores of its supporters have been arrested or assaulted since a widely followed strike in March.

"The nation has been robbed of hope and the country has been reduced to wasteland," said MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in his independence day message.

"The democratic space has been effectively abolished and peaceful protest is answered with bullets, teargas and bayonets."


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