Zimbabwe's beleaguered president, Robert Mugabe, on Friday struck back at critics of Zimbabwe’s democratic process, and accused his political opponents of wanting to restore white rule in the former British colony.
"Today we hear the British saying there's no democracy here, people are being oppressed, there's dictatorship, there's no observance of human rights, rule of law," Mugabe said in his first major address speech since disputed elections held March 29.
"We, not the British, established democracy based on one person, one vote, democracy which rejected racial or gender discrimination and observed human rights. We are the ones who brought democracy to this country,” he said at a rally to mark the country's 28th anniversary of independence.
Mugabe’s government has been criticized for not releasing results of the presidential election, held nearly three weeks ago. His opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, says he won the election. In parliamentary results, which have been released, Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change outpolled Mugabe’s ZANU-PF.
In his speech, at the Gwanzura stadium in Highfield, a suburb of Harare, Mugabe said his government was taking action to address Zimbabwe’s economic troubles.
"We are not saying there's nothing we can do about our hardships. We are trying in all areas. We want the farmers to be able to produce so we have more food and less hunger -- that's why we gave them tractors and other farming equipment," he said.
"We are trying even in the cities to alleviate the suffering. We know that the biggest problem is the prices," he added. Inflation in Zimbabwe has hit more than 165,000 percent, making food hard to find except on the black market.
Mugabe had harsh words for the MDC, which he has in the past accused of being British puppets. "We hear there's this party called the MDC which wants the whites to come back and are going out to the farms telling the black farmers they should leave the farms," he said.
The 84-year-old president is still regarded as a hero in many parts of Africa for his leading role in the 1970s liberation war, which led to Zimbabwe’s declaration of independence on April 18, 1980.
“The saddest Independence Day” as violence breaks out
Speaking in Johannesburg, Tsvangirai said the country was facing its darkest days since independence.
"This is the saddest independence day since our liberation from colonial rule," he said.
In a television interview with the BBC, Tsvangirai said his MDC party had been approached by ruling party ZANU-PF to sign a power-sharing deal that didn’t include Mugabe. But party hardliners had eventually killed it, he added.
Tsvangirai also accused Mugabe's followers of embarking on a campaign of violence and intimidation against the opposition.
The MDC party claims that two of its members were killed on Saturday by Mugabe supporters and 50 others were arrested. The police confirmed one of the murders but refused to say that it was politically motivated.
In an Independence Day message, the US ambassador to Zimbabwe supported his claim, saying MDC supporters had been murdered and forced from their homes in a spate of violence in rural areas since last month's elections.
Zimbabwe-bound Chinese cargo loaded with arms at quay in Durban
The South African government confirmed on Thursday that a Chinese cargo ship believed to be carrying 77 tons of small arms was docked in the port of Durban for transportation of the weapons to Zimbabwe.
"There's a fear that Mugabe might use these arms to silence the opposition in the case of a second round," said Caroline Dumay, France 24 correspondent in South Africa.
Thabo Mbeki’s government claims it is powerless to intervene as long as the ship's papers are in order, pointing that there is no UN trade embargo against Zimbabwe.
China has in the past supported Mugabe’s government, repeatedly using its veto at the UN Security Council to block actions against Zimbabwe, on the grounds that the country's problems are an internal matter.