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Bitterness and unease in bankrupt Zimbabwe

6 March 10 12:11 GMT

After 30 years in power, Zimbabwe's veteran leader Robert Mugabe said this week he was ready to stand for another term as president. BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding finds Mr Mugabe's party in angry mood, and others - the white minority and the former opposition MDC party - full of foreboding.

It has been a grey, drizzly week here.

In the wealthier suburbs of Harare, Zimbabwe's shrinking white population is once again feeling nervous.

Pat, who runs a small hairdressing salon, and whose family has lived here for four generations, is finally planning to leave.

They don't want us "whiteys" here any more she says. The writing is on the wall.

Pat has been spooked by a new law, introduced this week, which is supposed to correct the enduring economic legacies of colonialism, and give black Zimbabweans a controlling stake in almost all companies.

The main focus is Zimbabwe's rich mines and its industry.

But the indigenisation law also seeks to prevent white people from owning things like hairdressing and beauty salons.

In a few years, says Pat, we will be like an extinct species. They will come for our houses next.

The reaction may well be extreme.

Many white Zimbabweans have been slow to acknowledge the debt they owe to the black majority here. Economic empowerment is clearly necessary.

But after a decade of economic chaos, horrific violence, and the brutal seizure of white-owned farms, it is easy to understand why so many Zimbabweans - of all colours - are hair-trigger tuned to expect the very worst.

Bitter words

Saviour Kasukuwere does not exactly try to smooth the waters.

"You people," he almost spat at me, as I sat in his office on the ninth floor of the squat grey building that houses President Mugabe's Zanu PF Party.

Mr Kasukuwere used to be a member of Mr Mugabe's notorious state security.

He is a hardliner and a rising star.

"You British, you could learn a lot about democracy from us," he says with a thin smile.

Mr Kasukuwere, a tall, heavy-set man, was at primary school when his country won full independence from Britain 30 years ago.

Unlike Mr Mugabe's generation, he did not fight and suffer for freedom. But, full of passionate intensity, he seems to wallow in his bitterness.

In his eyes, and words, everything can still be blamed on what he calls the "genocidal" West.

Zanu PF's current preoccupation is with what it calls "Western sanctions".

The state media makes it sound like some overwhelming economic blockade.

"Our children are dying because of sanctions," says Mr Kasukuwere.

But as diplomats and economists here point out, the reality is less extreme.

The European Union is currently imposing a travel ban on 198 individuals. Thirty-five companies are also frozen out.

"This is about Mrs Mugabe not being able to shop in Paris," one diplomat put it. "Zimbabwe can't borrow money, not because of sanctions, but because it owes $6bn, and can't pay it back because it systematically wrecked its own economy."

Train smash

Within Zimbabwe's unity government, sanctions are a poisonous issue - one of many.

The unity government, formed after bitterly disputed elections, has survived a year now - President Mugabe's Zanu PF sharing, or at least pretending to share power with its enemy, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

"It's a train smash, warfare every day," one MDC minister told me.

But the government has survived and on some issues is clearly making progress.

The MDC is hoping now to water down the new indigenisation law in order not to scare away foreign investors and potentially plunge the economy back into chaos.

Both parties are now gearing up for new elections - possibly next year. It is the only way to settle Zimbabwe's political deadlock once and for all.

The sanctions issue and the indigenisation law, are key campaign themes for Zanu PF.

If the MDC tries to question either of them - it is accused of being a stooge for colonial Western interests.

The MDC can probably handle that sort of criticism. It has got a strong support base, and at least one recent opinion poll showed it would crush Mr Mugabe and his party at the polls.

Any credit for the economic stability achieved here during the past year, seems to have gone to the MDC.

But the party is not nearly as well organised or ruthless as Zanu PF.

We are floundering, one MDC insider told me dejectedly. And of course, past experience in Zimbabwe shows that elections here are won by intimidation, not popularity.

In 2008, Zanu PF orchestrated a campaign of terror - killing and beating MDC supporters - in order to hold on to power.

Now at the age of 86, after 30 years in office, President Mugabe has announced he is planning to run for yet another term.

Elections could be held next year, he says.

Mr Mugabe controls the police and the army, and under the current constitution, most of the electoral infrastructure.

Will he play fair this time?

We are heading towards another big fight, a senior MDC official told me anxiously.

Unless we have foreign peacekeepers to protect us, it will be another bloodbath.

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