'Healthy' Mugabe presides over Zimbabwe independence

Robert Mugabe
Image caption Robert Mugabe appeared healthy and confident during independence celebrations

Cheering crowds have greeted the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, at the start of independence day celebrations in Harare.

It is his first major engagement since he returned from a visit to Singapore.

That trip prompted speculation that the 88-year-old leader was seriously ill.

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai described as "repugnant" the theme of this year's celebrations - the "indigenisation" of businesses owned by white people.

The celebrations centred on Zimbabwe's National Stadium, and included a fly-past by four MiG air force jets.

Mr Mugabe made a 50-minute speech - shorter than in previous years.

He called for forthcoming elections to be peaceful, and said voters should be free to vote for the party of their choice.

"All fights, all struggles that were violent should not be allowed," he said.

In previous elections Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party has been accused of using intimidation, violence and the distribution of emergency food during election campaigns.

The president did not refer to his health during his speech.


The BBC's southern Africa correspondent, Karen Allen, says Mr Mugabe looked healthy and confident.

But while the event to mark 32 years of independence from colonial rule was attended by Prime Minister Tsvangirai, it has been dogged by controversy.

Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, which is in a fragile power-sharing deal with Zanu-PF, has voiced its objection to the theme of indigenisation that is dominating the celebrations.

Mr Tsvangirai said that taking over 51% of white-owned businesses was not government policy, and added that Zimbabwe should focus on growing investment and jobs instead.

Mr Mugabe's policy of seizing most of the country's white-owned land has been widely blamed for destroying what was once among Africa's wealthiest countries.

He argues that such programmes are needed to right the wrongs of the colonial era, when racial laws helped the white minority dominate the economy.

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