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Zimbabwe's Ruling Party Faithful Urge Mugabe To Stay Indefinitely

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe officially opened the annual conference of his ruling ZANU-PF party on the grounds of a high school in Goromonzi, Mashonaland East, 40 kilometers east of Harare. He denounced Britain and the United States for allegedly sabotaging the country's economy, and warned party brass against a minerals-sector grab that might be an embarrassment to the country.

Wearing party regalia imprinted with his own image, Mugabe denounced the West for allegedly working to bring about “regime change, ” blaming British, U.S. and European targeted sanctions for the collapse of Zimbabwe's economy since 2000. His critics blame Mr. Mugabe's policies, especially land reform, for the six-year recession.

Though the top item on the ruling party agenda was the so-called “harmonization” of presidential and general elections, the main effect of which would be to extend his term by two years, Mr. Mugabe made no reference to it in his speech. But delegates enthusiastically pushed the question from the floor led by the ZANU-PF women’s league, which sang songs of praise and urged him to rule indefinitely.

Considering the rush by Zanu-PF to “harmonize” elections, National Constitutional Assembly chairman Lovemore Madhuku told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that harmonization should not mean extending a presidential term.

Madhuku said opposition parties and civic groups would meet on Monday to map the way forward should ZANU-PF resolve in favor of a so-called harmonization.

But Eddisson Zvobgo, Jr., legal secretary for the ruling party in Masvingo Province, argued in an interview with VOA reporter Howard Lesser that term extension is a cost effective, belt-tightening move as the country struggles to recover economically.

Party insiders said Mr. Mugabe read the riot act to those jostling to succeed him and indicated he would not tolerate conference debate on the subject. This came after it emerged that loyalists of Mr. Mugabe's second vice president, Joyce Mujuru, backed by delegates from Harare province and Mashonaland East province as well as some veterans of the liberation war, wanted to press Mr. Mugabe for a retirement date.

But he pre-empted this, saying succession disputes were breeding factionalism in the party. Top party officials said Mugabe ordered party legal affairs secretary Emmerson Mnangagwa to drop a defamation lawsuit against chairman John Nkomo.

Analyst Glen Mpani of Cape Town University told reporter Zulu that Mugabe still plans to isolate Mnangagwa, and that this is fueling divisions within the party.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...