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Zimbabwean Presidential Challenger Simba Makoni Calls Mugabe a 'Liar'

Zimbabwean independent presidential candidate Simba Makoni took off the gloves on Saturday in his upstart challenge to incumbent Robert Mugabe, calling the 84-year-old leader a "liar" for saying Makoni if elected would reverse the land reform program that Mugabe launched in 2000 and return farms to their former white owners.

Makoni was addressing about 5,000 supporters gathered at Mkoba Stadium in Gweru, the capital of Midlands Province and an important industrial center.

It was the first hard rhetorical punch Makoni, 57, has taken at President Mugabe since announcing his candidacy early last month, following which he was expelled from the ruling ZANU-PF party. Mr. Mugabe later called Makoni a political "prostitute."

Correspondent Taurai Shava of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported.

In Harare, meanwhile, President Mugabe, flanked by Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono, launched the second phase of a farm mechanization program which he said would revive agricultural production. He exhorted those who had benefited from land reform to work harder to boost output to meet the country's food needs.

Mr. Mugabe accused the Western powers of working with the Zimbabwean opposition to engineer an artificial economic crisis intended to remove him from power. He said the country had survived despite being cut off by multilateral lending institutions.

"What now remains is for every farmer to roll up their sleeves and till the land for the prosperity of our motherland Zimbabwe," said Mr. Mugabe during the commissioning of tractors and other equipment to be distributed to such "new farmers."

Mr. Mugabe promised if re-elected to press ahead with land reform and expand aid to such farmers as well as disadvantaged rural communities, urging supporters to send a message to his Western critics by returning him and ZANU-PF to power.

"We just don't want to win," he said. "We want to win resoundingly so that the British can feel the heat that they have been beaten at it."

Correspondent Sylvia Manika reported from Harare.

In Zimbabwe's second-largest city of Bulawayo, meanwhile, opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change told an estimated 12,000 supporters in a thinly veiled criticism of Makoni that some presidential candidates are not sincere about taking action to relieve the suffering of Zimbabweans.

Tsvangirai said such unnamed candidates wanted to "patch" the country's problems, but that voters could only trust his MDC to deliver fundamental change.

Correspondent Netsai Mlilo reported from White City Stadium, Bulawayo.

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