Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe on Monday seized the occasion of Heroes Day occasion to appeal for peace in the country, urging all political parties not to try to coerce the population to support them but instead to 7find ways to win their votes.
Addressing a Heroes Day commemoration crowd at Heroes Acre in Harare, where many prominent figures of the 1970s liberation struggle are buried, President Mugabe spoke at length on the need for peace in Zimbabwe.
He called on all political parties, local authorities, churches and civic organizations to engage with the population to foster a culture of peace.
Mr. Mugabe said he hoped that by the time the country reaches the next round of elections there will be no more violence.
He blasted Western countries for imposing sanctions on many officials of his ZANU-PF party, including prominently himself, adding that he was tired of calling for such sanctions to be lifted when the nations imposing them did not listen, warning he might hit back.
Mr. Mugabe said Zimbabwe would punish companies doing business in Zimbabwe owned by corporations based in Western nations that have imposed travel restrictions and financial sanctions. He said mining firms including Rio Tinto could be hit.
"We can't continue to receive the battering of sanctions without hitting back. We have to hit back," Mr. Mugabe told thousands of people at Heroes Acre.
"We will have to discriminate against countries that have imposed sanctions against us," he demanded. "Why do we need companies like Rio Tinto? If they are to continue mining, then the sanctions must go."
President Mugabe also warned that "mad people in the West" are campaigning for regime change in Zimbabwe, pointing to the ongoing civil war in Libya where rebels backed by NATO forces are trying to oust Muammar Gadhafi.
He also reiterated his call for early elections to end the country's fractious coalition government and called some of his opponents "demon-possessed sellouts" who turn to the West for help. "Today is the day to cast out those demons," said Mr. Mugabe
He said his ZANU-PF party was frustrated by the slow pace of preparations for the next elections, and said he will meet with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, his fellow unity government principals, on the issue.
The president hailed the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, saying they had maintained peace and operated professionally, so security sector reforms were not acceptable.
Prime Minister Tsvangirai was absent as he was speaking at the funeral of Public Service Minister Eliphas Mukonoweshuro elsewhere in the capital.
President Mugabe’s comments rejecting security sector reform closely followed remarks by his Prime Minister Tsvangirai on Sunday, urging reform saying the military has been closely associated historically with political violence in Zimbabwe.
Mr. Tsvangirai urged the military to leave politics to politicians and to be impartial.
Martin Rupiya, executive director of the Africa Public Policy and Research Institute, said Mr. Mugabe’s rejection of security sector reform encourages further abuses.
“The comments by President Robert Mugabe allow impunity and the abuse of civil-military relations by uniformed forces. This is what is happening as we speak. We saw a couple of weeks ago the lack of action by the police in Parliament,” said Rupiya.
Tsvangirai spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka said the prime minister acknowledges the key role of the military in the liberation of Zimbabwe from white minority rule, but said the image of the military has been eroded by their meddling in
Tamborinyoka said the Southern African Development Community, guarantor of the unity government, needs to focus its attention on the question of military reform.
Political analyst John Makumbe of the University of Zimbabwe said he welcomed President Mugabe’s call for peace - but commented that the president must tell his ZANU-PF party to halt its practice of coercing people to support it.