Mugabe hails army loyalty

President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday decorated his top military commanders and hailed the Zimbabwean army for standing by him despite a deep economic crisis which many critics blame on his government.

Addressing a rally to mark defence forces’ day, Mugabe said soldiers were playing a big role in government efforts to turn around the economy, and urged what he called Zimbabwe’s ”true friends” to invest in the Southern African country.

The Zimbabwean army — commanded by former guerrillas who fought for independence under Mugabe’s leadership in the 1970s — is part of the ruling Zanu-PF party’s hold on power in the face of growing opposition to his 27-year rule.

The 83-year-old Mugabe said Zimbabwe’s security and the welfare of its people were his top priority, adding that he had ordered a price blitz against businesses to neutralise a plot ”meant to cause unbearable suffering” and a public revolt.

”In this regard, I would like to thank the defence and security forces for remaining loyal and dedicated to the maintenance of people and tranquillity of the country in these trying times,” he said, when decorating his three top army generals.

The veteran Zimbabwean leader has co-opted a number of serving or retired army officers into civilian administration, and they have in the last seven years played key roles in running elections, state companies, distributing food aid and crushing opposition protest campaigns.

Threat to stage coup

On the eve of the 2002 presidential elections, security chiefs announced they would not accept victory by an opposition candidate not linked to Zimbabwe’s independence struggle — which many critics saw as a threat that they were ready to stage a coup if MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had won.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) accuses Mugabe of turning the army, police and the secret service into partisan organs to maintain Zanu-PF’s hold on power.

Last month, Mugabe said Zimbabwe’s military had rejected British encouragement to stage a coup in exchange for helping the country out of its political and economic crisis.

Mugabe blames the West for the economic situation in the country, which has the world’s highest inflation rate spiralling above 4%nbsp;500% and rising unemployment and poverty levels.

‘True and genuine friends’

On Tuesday, Mugabe said his government was constantly reviewing salaries and conditions in the army, investing in training and was working to contribute manpower to a planned Southern African Development Community peacekeeping force.

Critics say Mugabe’s drive against businesses over prices is part of a populist campaign to win re-election in general polls due by March 2008 but is damaging Zimbabwe’s economy further.

Panic buying over the last seven weeks has left many shops without basic foodstuffs, and companies say they cannot restock and sell goods at a loss.

But Mugabe says the economy will rebound on government help to new black farmers who took over land he seized from white commercial farmers. On Tuesday he called on Zimbabwe’s friends to invest in the country.

”I would like to invite our true and genuine friends to join hands with us in investing in the abundant natural resources of this country,” he said, adding the investments would be secure. – Reuters

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