Sat, Dec 10, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Mugabe pushes for empowerment for blacks, early polls

Reuters, BULAWAYO, ZIMBABWE

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Thursday called for elections next year to end a fragile coalition with rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, and said he would not back down in forcing foreign firms to sell majority stakes to blacks.

The 87-year-old leader told supporters at an annual ZANU-PF conference that the unity government that has ended a decade of economic collapse and seen a thawing in political tensions is dysfunctional.

Mugabe, whose ZANU-PF party is accused of political violence in past elections, told his supporters to renounce violence, saying the party could win any vote with better policies such as the empowerment drive.

“We’re saying time has come now to prepare for elections. We just have to have elections next year,” Mugabe said in a speech that lasted more than two hours. “Let’s go to an election so people can choose a government of their liking.”

In the last election, Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the first-round vote, but was forced to pull out of a run-off, citing violence against his supporters from independence war veterans and youth militia running Mugabe’s campaign.

Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, is expected to be formally endorsed as ZANU-PF’s presidential candidate at the conference that ends today.

Political analysts say his allies are pressing for early elections, which are due in 2013 when Mugabe would be 89, fearing that he may not cope with the pressure of campaigning.

A June 2008 US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks in September said Mugabe had prostate cancer that had spread to other organs. He was urged by his physician to step down in 2008, but he has stayed in the job.

Mugabe says he is still fit.

On Thursday, Mugabe said a drive by ZANU-PF to force mining companies to surrender at least 51 percent stakes to blacks was not an election gamble, but meant to address colonial imbalances.

Foreign-owned miners, including the world’s two top platinum producers — Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum Holdings — and global miner Rio Tinto, have partly complied with the empowerment law.

The mining firms have offloaded 10 percent of their shares to local communities.

“We will not reverse this policy. Let no one deceive themselves that it’s devised for the elections. No, it’s a fundamental policy,” Mugabe said.

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