Unrepentant Mugabe addresses the UN

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The Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe pledged to respect the "spirit and the letter" of a power-sharing deal with the opposition, in his first formal public appearance since the signing of the 15 September pact.

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Mr Mugabe said "we are prepared to co-operate with all countries which also respect Zimbabwe's sovereignty" as he called for the lifting of "illegal sanctions". Negotiations on completing the cabinet, to be shared between the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party are continuing in Harare while the President is in New York.

But Mr Mugabe gave no indication in his speech that he intended to set his country on a different course. It was marked by characteristic accusations against Britain, the former colonial power, and the US, accused of imposing the sanctions "which have brought untold suffering to our people". The European Union, however, has never halted humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of Africa, where food production has halved in the past decade. Western donor countries are waiting for the formation of a government and a sense of reform before injecting aid to boost the economy.

Earlier, the President, 84, mocked suggestions that human rights groups would be allowed to return to his stricken country.

Asked by the Associated Press whether Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch would be allowed to enter Zimbabwe, he said: "Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Let them keep out."

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