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Page last updated at 23:44 GMT, Friday, 18 April 2008 00:44 UK

Mugabe attacks opposition and UK

Robert Mugabe addresses rally 18/4/08

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has denounced the opposition and former colonial power Britain in his first speech since the disputed elections.

"Down with thieves who want to steal our country," he told crowds marking 28 years of independence.

The outcome of the presidential poll is unclear but the high court has rejected an opposition bid to stop a recount.

Meanwhile, a Chinese ship carrying arms to Zimbabwe is reported to have left South Africa after failing to unload.

Dock workers had refused to remove the arms aboard the An Yue Jiang, which had been forced to anchor off the port of Durban for four days.

The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union said it did "not agree with the position of the government not to intervene".

Reports say the An Yue Jiang is carrying 3m rounds of ammunition, 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades and 2,500 mortar rounds.

On Thursday, Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said South African President Thabo Mbeki needed to be "relieved of his duties" as a mediator in the crisis caused by the presidential poll, for which results have not been released.

This is the saddest independence day since our liberation from colonial rule
Morgan Tsvangirai
Movement for Democratic Change

He also told the BBC that his party had come close to an agreement with the ruling Zanu-PF to remove Mr Mugabe from power.

Mr Tsvangirai is adamant he won the presidential election outright. But the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission says it cannot release the results until it investigates anomalies.

On Friday, the high court rejected an application by the MDC to stop a partial recount taking place this weekend.

"I find no merit in the application," said Justice Antonia Guvava. "Accordingly, the application is dismissed with costs."

The ruling paves the way for all presidential, parliamentary, senate and council votes cast in 23 out of 210 constituencies to be recounted.

A change in the parliamentary result by nine seats could see the Zanu-PF party regain its lost majority in the assembly.

In the presidential poll, government ministers suggest that a run-off may be needed, and the MDC says its activists in rural areas are being attacked ahead of that possible poll.

The independent Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights has said at least 200 people have been treated for severe injuries as a result of political violence since last month's election.

'British machinations'

Thousands of people gathered at the Gwanzura Stadium in Highfield, a suburb of Harare, to hear Mr Mugabe speak at a rally celebrating the anniversary of Zimbabwe's independence from Britain and the end of white minority rule.

The 84-year-old played a key role in the 1970s war of independence and took power as Zimbabwe's first prime minister in 1980 on a wave of popular support.

We, not the British, established democracy, based on one person, one vote
President Robert Mugabe

Many of those in the crowd wore T-shirts decorated with Mr Mugabe's portrait or held banners showing their support for his government's policies.

"Defending our land from imperialists," said one poster, while another claimed "Zimbabwe has no place for sell-outs."

Mr Mugabe took to the stage to rapturous applause to celebrate what he described as the day on which the "nation finally shook off the chains of British racist settler colonialism".

"Our political history is well known, yet with time, we feel more challenged to recall it, especially for those who appear ignorant of it or are deliberately engaged in reversing the gains of our liberation struggle," he said.

Mr Mugabe brushed aside criticism by the British government of Zimbabwe's human rights record and political system, saying democracy had only been established there after independence.

"We, not the British, established democracy based on one person, one vote - democracy which rejected racial or gender discrimination and upheld human rights and religious freedom," he said.

HAVE YOUR SAY
I predict that the situation will end up like Kenya. Mugabe will be encouraged by the African Union to form a national unity government
Frank Hartry, South Africa

The president called on Zimbabweans "to maintain utmost vigilance in the face of vicious British machinations and the machinations of our other detractors, who are allies of Britain".

"Whereas yesterday they relied on brute force to subjugate our people and plunder our resources, today they have perfected their tactics to more subtle forms," he warned.

Mr Mugabe also said the government was attempting to deal with the hardships facing Zimbabweans, such as the shortage of food and high unemployment, which have been compounded by hyper-inflation.

'Saddest day'

On Thursday, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa accused Mr Tsvangirai of treason and working with the UK to bring about "regime change".

Morgan Tsvangirai talks to the BBC

The state-controlled Herald newspaper paper said the details were contained in a "memorandum of understanding" between the MDC leader and "various right-wing groups" in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The UK embassy in Harare said the correspondence was "a forgery". Mr Tsvangirai also rejected the treason allegations, describing Mr Chinamasa as an "injustice minister" because he had lost his seat in parliament.

At a news conference in Johannesburg, Mr Tsvangirai said Zimbabwe was facing "the saddest independence day since our liberation from colonial rule" and that people were literally starving.

Later, Mr Tsvangirai told the BBC of the near-agreement between the MDC and Zanu-PF that would have removed President Mugabe.

"We were prepared to consider the issue of an inclusive government including some members of Zanu-PF," he said.

"In fact they were suggesting how many and they were talking about a panel from which we were going to choose."

The government talks failed when it became clear there were "others in the establishment who did not want to accept that", he said.


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