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Saturday, 19 April 2008

Mugabe brushes off rights record criticism

AFP, HARARE - President Robert Mugabe brushed off criticism Friday over his human rights record, saying that democracy had only been established in Zimbabwe after the departure of its colonial rulers.

"Today we hear the British saying there's no democracy here, people are being oppressed, there's dictatorship, there's no observance of human rights, rule of law," Mugabe said at a rally to mark the country's 28th anniversary of independence.

"We, not the British, established democracy based on one person one vote, democracy which rejected racial or gender discrimination and observed human rights.

"We are the ones who brought democracy to this country, we are the ones who removed the oppression which was here."

In a wide-ranging speech, his first major address since the country held disputed elections on March 29, Mugabe acknowledged that the country was facing major hardships, especially over food supplies, but said his government was making efforts to alleviate the situation.

"We are not saying there's nothing we can do about our hardships. We are trying in all areas. We want the farmers to be able to produce so we have more food and less hunger -- that's why we gave them tractors and other farming equipment," he said.

"We are trying even in the cities to alleviate the suffering. We know that the biggest problems is the prices," he added.
With inflation now officially standing at more than 165,000 percent, stores are currently increasing their prices several times a day and even the most basic foodstuffs are now scarce except on the black market.

Mugabe accused the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which has already wrested control of parliament away from the president's Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front party, of trying to restore white rule.

"We hear there's this party called the MDC which wants the whites to come back and are going out to the farms telling the black farmers they should leave the farms," said Mugabe.

"They are getting that confidence from the MDC which you (people in cities) voted for."

Mugabe has frequently accused the MDC and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai of being puppets of the British.

Tsvangirai has insisted that he beat Mugabe in the March 29 presidential elections, the results of which are still to be announced.

Mugabe has ruled ever since the country formerly known as Rhodesia gained its independence on April 18, 1980.

While Zimbabwe was originally hailed as a regional model, its economy has collapsed spectacularly since the start of the decade when Mugabe embarked on a controversial programme of land reforms in which thousands of white-owned farms were seized.

As well as suffering the world's highest rate of inflation, Zimbabwe also has an unemployment rate beyond the 80 percent mark.

Some three million Zimbabweans have left their homeland in a bid to find work or even food, while life expectancy has dropped to an average of 36 years of age.

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