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Last Updated: Friday, 30 March 2007, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Mugabe rival 'asked for beating'
Morgan Tsvangirai
Morgan Tsvangirai's injuries were clear to see after the beating
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has told supporters that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was attacked earlier this month - and deserved the beating.

At a Zanu-PF party meeting in Harare, he said Mr Tsvangirai was clearly told not to attend a banned rally.

Inside the meeting, Mr Mugabe called on Zanu-PF members to maintain party unity as he sought a new term as leader.

The meeting is to decide whether Mr Mugabe should stand in presidential elections due next year.

He was beaten but he asked for it
President Robert Mugabe
He is under increasing pressure from Zanu-PF factions to stand down to end the political and economic crisis.

Mr Mugabe, who is 83, has made it clear he wants to remain in office.

No complaints

Arriving at the Harare conference, Mr Mugabe said he had discussed Mr Tsvangirai's injuries with fellow southern African leaders at a summit in Tanzania on Thursday.

"Yes, I told them he was beaten but he asked for it," AFP news agency quoted Mr Mugabe as saying.

"We got full backing, not even one [other African leader] criticised our actions."

Mr Tsvangirai spent several days in hospital and many other supporters were badly hurt when MDC activists were beaten after being arrested at the rally.

The assaults provoked international condemnation of Mr Mugabe's rule in Zimbabwe, which he has led since independence in 1980.

Sanctions blamed

At Thursday's summit, southern African leaders agreed that South African President Thabo Mbeki should try to promote political dialogue inside Zimbabwe.

The problem with these African leaders is that they fear Mugabe and employ a quiet diplomacy
Henry, Harare

The leaders expressed solidarity with Mr Mugabe, urged western countries to lift sanctions and called on the UK to pay for land reform.

The European Union and US sanctions are a travel ban and an assets freeze on Mr Mugabe and his close allies, yet Mr Mugabe blames them for causing Zimbabwe's economic woes.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is disappointed with the outcome of the meeting - it says the problems are Mr Mugabe's economic mismanagement and human rights abuses.

The secretary general of one MDC faction, Tendai Biti, said it did not want dialogue with Mr Mugabe but agreed to talk to other Zanu-PF leaders.

He also pointed out that Mr Mbeki had previously been tasked with ending Zimbabwe's crisis, to little effect.

Poor harvest

BBC Southern Africa correspondent Peter Biles say Mr Mugabe has never looked as isolated as he is at present.

In the knowledge that elections are due a year from now, there is intense lobbying going on within Zanu-PF, our correspondent says.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe

President Mugabe at first suggested extending his term in office until 2010 but he later said the elections could be held as scheduled - and said he could stand himself.

The 245 members of his party's Central Committee are to decide whether the elections should be postponed.

Two top Zanu-PF power-brokers are believed to want to contest the elections instead of Mr Mugabe.

They are former armed forces commander Solomon Mujuru - or his wife Joyce, Zimbabwe vice-president - and former Security Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.

But it is not clear if either will stand up and directly challenge Mr Mugabe at the meeting.

Zimbabwe's economy is in meltdown, with inflation of 1,700% and widespread poverty and unemployment.

On Thursday, UN humanitarian director Rashid Khalikov said that 1.4 million Zimbabweans would need food aid this year, as harvests were only due to meet one-third of the country's requirements.


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