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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 September 2005, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
Mugabe defends urban demolitions
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe has been ostracised by many world leaders
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has denied his country is in the grip of an avoidable famine, and defended his controversial slum clearance policy.

Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, Mr Mugabe said the demolition of vast urban areas was an effort to boost law and order and development.

He insisted that the slum clearances were followed by well-planned building projects designed to rehouse the poor.

Some accuse him of bulldozing slums housing opposition supporters.

Mr Mugabe defended the demolitions, insisting that Zimbabwe must move forward, rather than tolerate poverty and haphazard urban development.

He said Zimbabwe would not lower its urban living standards to allow for mud huts and bush latrines, and did not need "development in reverse".

Humanitarian concerns

"We find it strange and anomalous that the government of Zimbabwe should be maligned and condemned for restoring order and the rule of law in its municipal areas," he told the UN in New York.

We pride ourselves as being top, really, on the African ladder
Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe President
"Our detractors fail to acknowledge that Operation Restore Order soon gave way to a well-planned, vast reconstruction programme.

"Properly planned accommodation, factory shells and vending stalls are being constructed in many areas of our country for our people."

An estimated 700,000 people lost their homes during the slum clearances, which were described as a humanitarian crisis by the United Nations and heavily criticised by Human Rights Watch.

Zimbabweans 'happy'

In an interview with the Associated Press news agency, Mr Mugabe denied that Zimbabwe was in the grip of a famine.

He said that the country has ample stocks of potatoes and rice, yet the population insists on eating corn, a traditional staple.

The people of Zimbabwe are "very, very happy," Mr Mugabe said, blaming corn shortages on years of "continuous drought".

"We pride ourselves as being top, really, on the African ladder," Mr Mugabe told AP.

"We feel that we have actually been advancing rather than going backwards."


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