Mugabe marks 30 years of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe marked the 30th anniversary of its independence yesterday the same way that it had celebrated its initial separation from Britain: with a stadium speech by Robert Mugabe.

The veteran leader sounded an unusually conciliatory note in Harare, calling for an end to political violence and avoiding the usual name-calling of his opponents. "Your leadership in the inclusive government urges you to desist from any acts of violence that will cause harm to others and become a blight on our society," he told a rally attended by about 30,000 people.

Mr Mugabe even acknowledged the presence of former rival and current Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, in a move that drew a cheer from supporters of Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) at the venue. However, the speech also revealed some of the key areas for the coming election battle between the partners in Zimbabwe's dysfunctional power-sharing government.

The 86-year-old President said he would pursue controversial plans to transfer a majority shareholding in all foreign firms to local partners under a new law. He also railed against the US and UK over their refusal to abolish sanctions. There is increasing speculation that the troubled southern African nation could go back to the polls within the next 12 months despite a lack of progress in electoral reforms. Alternatively, elections could be held as late as 2013.

Analysts expect the ruling Zanu-PF party to base its campaign on blaming sanctions for the devastated economy and pushing its "indigenisation" plans. The scheme for ownership transfers is strongly rejected by the MDC, which argues that it will scare off badly needed foreign investment.

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