Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe ready to work with 'arrogant' Western countries after controversial election triumph

 

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe says he is ready to re-establish normal relations with the “arrogant” Western countries that have questioned his re-election in a vote his rivals say was fraudulent.

Striking an unusually conciliatory tone, the 89-year-old, who has dismissed Western criticism of his July 31 victory, told parliament his ZANU-PF party would pursue a constructive foreign policy based on cooperation with other countries.

"We indeed stand ready to work even with those who, before, were at odds with us, our detractors," he said, without naming any state, at a pomp-filled opening of parliament.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change boycotted the ceremony in protest at what it has described as "massive fraud".

Mugabe arrived at parliament in a vintage Rolls Royce, flanked by police on horseback, some of the many colonial era-style trappings at odds with the politics of a leader known more for his verbal tirades against the West, especially former imperial power Britain.

However, Mugabe's 40-minute speech was remarkable for its politesse.

He described Western powers as arrogant for keeping sanctions on his ZANU-PF government for the last 13 years over charges of rights abuses and vote rigging, and said his administration would strengthen laws to force foreign-owned firms to surrender majority shares to locals.

However, overall he focused on plans to revive an economy struggling with poverty and unemployment.

Mugabe's victory was endorsed as free by African observers but London and Washington questioned whether it represented the will of the southern African nation's 13 million people and said sanctions against top figures in Harare should stay.

Normal ties with the West would help Zimbabwe's economic recovery from a decade-long slump that ended in 2009 with the scrapping of the worthless Zimbabwe dollar, and to that end Mugabe has been calling for a lifting of sanctions.

He received a boost on Tuesday when the European Union agreed to lift curbs on state mining firm Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC).

Despite his radical rhetoric, Mugabe - Africa's oldest leader - has also shown a soft spot for British history and culture, speaking in immaculate "Queen's English", dressing in suits and ties and enjoying tea and cricket in the afternoon.

His respect for tradition was evident in the parliamentary ceremony, which included a guard of honour, a fly-past by military jets and 21-gun salute. He was also invited to address the House by a bewigged speaker, another echo of British political convention.

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