Mugabe's 'million man march' fails to disguise ruling party divisions

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe's president ridiculed Britain's Parliament yesterday during a public rally near Harare.

Robert Mugabe criticised British politicians for "discussing us every week in their stupid Parliament".

His government commandeered buses and state railroad cars to carry supporters from across the country for a major march near Harare.

The event was a show of strength for Mr Mugabe before a party meeting next month at which his continued leadership was likely to be debated, and before presidential elections next year in which he was expected to run.

"The people will speak. Outsiders must keep their hands off," Mr Mugabe said to cheers from supporters.

An estimated 40,000 supporters marched from downtown Harare to a one-time sports field in the nearby township of Highfield, where they were joined by thousands more rural supporters carrying umbrellas against seasonal rains.

The nation is suffering official inflation of 8,000 per cent, the highest in the world.

Mr Mugabe blames Western economic sanctions, successive years of drought and speculators in the economy for driving up inflation by creating shortages that fuelled black market trading at prices of up to 10 times the government's fixed prices.

Ruling party militants had billed yesterday's event as "the march of a million" supporters to pledge support for Mr Mugabe as the ruling party's sole candidate for presidential elections in March.

No official count of those present was available, but it was the biggest political rally seen for several years.