HARARE (AFP) – President Robert Mugabe marked Zimbabwe’s 33 years of independence with a renewed call to shun violence ahead of elections later this year to choose a successor to the country’s shaky power-sharing government.
“The country is now due to hold harmonised elections, and I wish to urge the nation to uphold and promote peace,” Mugabe told a rally in the capital to mark the 33rd anniversary of the former Rhodesia’s independence from Britain.
He told party leaders to avoid exhorting their followers to attack opponents and said he had ordered the police to get tough on perpetrators of political violence.
“You are all Zimbabweans,” Mugabe told celebrations attended by government officials including his nemesis Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
“Go and vote your own way. No one should force you to vote for me,” said Mugabe, whose ZANU-PF was largely blamed for most of the violence seen during the last elections in 2008. More than 200 opposition members were killed around the run-off vote.
“I urge all our people to replicate the peaceful and tranquil environment which characterised the referendum” last month, Mugabe said.
Zimbabwe endorsed a new constitution in the March referendum, which was hailed by observers as credible.
Mugabe expressed the hope that talks to restore ties with the West will see the lifting of sanctions imposed on him and his inner circle for alleged rights abuses and electoral fraud.
“Zimbabwe welcomes the re-engagement efforts that were recently initiated by Britain and the European Union,” he said.
“We hope that these efforts will lead to the unconditional lifting of illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe.”
Elections should take place later this year after the expiry of the power-sharing government Mugabe formed four years ago with his long-time rival. A date is yet to be fixed.
Meanwhile Tsvangirai, in his own independence day message, said the end of colonial rule did not bring freedom for all.
“We still have a huge deficit when it comes to respect for human dignity and human rights because we take for granted the people’s basic freedoms of assembly, speech and association,” Tsvangirai said.