Page last updated at 20:11 GMT, Tuesday, 26 August 2008 21:11 UK

Fuming Mugabe rattled by hecklers

Robert Mugabe's picture hangs at the entrance of the parliament building as a guard of honour stand during the opening ceremony in Harare, 26 August 2008

By Brian Hungwe

Loud jeers and howls accompanied President Robert Mugabe's address to Zimbabwe's newly convened parliament, leaving ruling party members fuming.

Such uncouth behaviour from the opposition, one Zanu-PF insider said, was uncalled for.

But after gaining control of parliament, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) clearly wanted to make its mark.

The opening of parliament had started with the usual pomp and ceremony.

We are together in the struggle, no amount of beatings and killings will deter us
MDC MPs' chant

Mr Mugabe drove to the house in an open Rolls Royce, accompanied by horse-mounted police.

Singing party supporters, bussed in to give the occasion colour, welcomed him as the car drew in.

The elite presidential guard stood to attention for their commander-in-chief.

The most-decorated military generals followed behind him as he inspected the guard, resplendent in their military gear, who promised to salute him till death.

Inside parliament, it was a different story.

Lacking Grace

As Mr Mugabe sauntered into the building, a green stately cloth across his shoulders, his Zanu-PF legislators to the left of the house stood up as a mark of respect for their head of state, their party leader.

Military generals, then judges in their colonial red gowns and pink wigs, followed closely behind.

But what must have staggered Mr Mugabe was that the MDC MPs remained seated.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and army generals inspect an honour guard in Harare, 26 August 2008
Robert Mugabe opened parliament amid ceremonial pomp

The president walked assertively past them, but he must have known then that he was in deep trouble.

This had never happened before to the 84-year-old leader.

Perhaps it was an inkling that the usual deference might be lacking that his wife Grace was not in attendance.

Half way through his speech, in which he praised South African President Thabo Mbeki for facilitating dialogue with the MDC and attacked rampant inflation, murmurs of discontent began to surface.

These jeers grew louder, leaving Zanu-PF MPs stunned.

"You killed people, we know that," a yell came from the MDC backbench.

'You are murderers'

In a crowd of more 200 legislators, it was hard to pinpoint the culprit.

"Yes, you are murderers," another echoed, in Shona.

Mr Mugabe then touched on the subject of sanctions.

"Surely sanctions cannot be good for any Zimbabwean and we have abundant evidence of their ravaging impact. We cannot condone such blatant spiteful injury," he said.

But the MDC struck again.

MPs arrive for the opening of parliament in Harare, 26 August 2008
MDC supporters were in combative form throughout the proceedings

"Zanu-PF is rotting," the legislators chanted for a good three minutes.

As Mr Mugabe raised the issue of the economic crisis, the opposition erupted into another song.

"We are together in the struggle, no amount of beatings and killings will deter us," they sang.

At some point Mr Mugabe raised his head, face shaken, and then proceeded with his speech.

Some minutes later, however, he accidentally knocked down the microphone.

It was certainly not the Zimbabwean octogenarian's usual performance.

He may have raised his fist as he walked out of parliament to diplomats and businessmen monitoring proceedings from the television sets outside parliament.

But his body language told a story of a leader who no longer quite has his grip on power.


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