After political victory, Zimbabwe's leader, 81, vows to rule until age 100

Ruling party recently won majority in Parliament

April 03, 2005|By Robyn Dixon | Robyn Dixon,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HARARE, Zimbabwe - A triumphant President Robert Mugabe, whose ruling party won parliamentary elections condemned by Western powers as unfair, declared yesterday that he would stay in power until he is 100.

Flanked by two stuffed lions, which looked a little moth-eaten about the ears, Zimbabwe's 81-year-old president greeted international journalists at a news conference with the words, "Are you afraid?"

He warned of serious violence and a tough response if the opposition took to the streets.

After 25 years in power, Mugabe answered a question on retirement plans by mapping out 19 more years at the helm, unless he dies in office. He had earlier promised to leave office by 2008.

Mugabe's Zanu-PF party took 78 seats in the 150-seat Parliament, leaving the opposition Movement for Democratic Change with 41 seats.

There is one independent seat, and a further 30 seats are appointed by Mugabe.

The result gave the ruling party the two-thirds majority it needs in order to change the constitution and further tighten its grip on power. After speculation that the majority would be used to choose his successor without the need for elections, Mugabe said yesterday, "There's no need for any succession at the moment."

U.S. and European observers were excluded from observing the elections, with only those from friendly powers such as South Africa invited. Yesterday, the South African observer mission announced its belief that the election reflected the will of the people, dismissing the objections of the MDC that the election was stolen.

"I don't believe any sane person will come and endorse this kind of elections," MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said after releasing a long list of allegations of unfairness: the high percentage of voters turned away from the polls; suspect voter rolls; repressive legislation to prevent the opposition campaign until late in the campaign; and the use of government food distribution in this country facing severe shortages to intimidate people into voting Zanu-PF.

MDC leaflets called on Zimbabweans yesterday to "pressurize" the government to reverse the election results, without spelling out what people should do. The move echoed opposition efforts Friday, when Tsvangirai called on people to come out and "defend their vote."

But Mugabe vowed to meet any mass protests with a tough response, warning that strikes were illegal and marches would not be tolerated. In the past, Mugabe's security forces have ruthlessly crushed protest and dissent, leaving many reluctant to take to the streets for fear of being beaten or killed.

He dismissed the MDC leaflets calling for pressure as a move to mollify disappointed supporters.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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