President Robert Mugabe marked Zimbabwe's 27th anniversary of independence from white colonial rule Wednesday with a blistering attack on his political opponents whom he accused of plotting regime change with Britain and the United States.
Addressing a crowd of about 35,000 people in Harare’s Rufaro Stadium, Mr. Mugabe warned that his government would “deal firmly” with opponents who acted illegally.
Said Mr. Mugabe: “we have observed how of late this conspiracy has attempted to transform into a militant, criminal strain, characterized by the puerile attempts of misguided opposition elements to create a state of anarchy.”
In a statement read at independence day celebrations around the country, President Mugabe told the crisis-gripped nation that "we will never hesitate to deal firmly with those elements who are bent on fomenting anarchy and criminal activities.”
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change boycotted the official celebration and officials of both factions of the MDC accused President Mugabe of using the national holiday to serve his own narrow political aims.
Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the MDC faction of Morgan Tsvangirai told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that President Mugabe's remarks were regrettable. Arthur Mutambara, president of the rival MDC faction, said Mr. Mugabe during his tenure since 1980 has negated the gains of independence.
Reporter Thomas Chiripasi of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe told host Ndimyake Mwakalyele from Harare that Mr. Mugabe blamed the country's increasingly crippling economic crisis on U.S. and European targeted sanctions and what he described as “unbridled greed" on the part of business people and saboteurs
Earlier Wednesday, youth militia members commonly known as "Green Bombers" for their green uniform shirts shut down the market at Mbare Musika, forcing vendors and shoppers there to go to nearby Rufaro Stadium for Mr. Mugabe's speech.
Reporting from the Harare district of Mbare, correspondent Irwin Chifera said youth militia commandeered private omnibuses to transport people free of charge.
Loirdham Moyo reported from Mutare in the east that many people there found little to celebrate, though some recalled the ideals of Zimbabwean independence.
From Chinhoyi, capital of Mashonaland West, correspondent Arthur Chigoriwo reported that relatively few residents turned out for celebrations there with only about 3,000 people, mainly schoolchildren, gathering in Chinhoyi Stadium.