Intransigent Robert Mugabe dismisses demands on press freedom as "nonsense"
HARARE – The defiant Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe has dismissed as "nonsense" Western demands that he free up Zimbabwe's media in order to get sanctions lifted, leaving his coalition partners in a catch 22, with a whole series of breaches of the SADC brokered unity government.
In an interview with Zimbabwe television aired late on Thursday, Mugabe also denied foreign media reports that his family recently bought a luxury home in Hong Kong, and criticised Britain for plans to help some of its nationals leave Zimbabwe.
Mugabe was asked if his new government would meet benchmarks, such as media freedom, set by Western powers including the European Union and the United States as a condition for the removal of travel and financial sanctions imposed on his ZANU-PF party.
"That is nonsense," he replied.
Mugabe’s government has tough media laws under which dozens of journalists have been arrested or deported over the last eight years, and foreign journalists are banned from basing their operations in the country.
Mugabe said his Western opponents must unconditionally lift sanctions, which he sees as unfair, illegal and racist economic penalties against his party.
Western governments have taken a cautious approach to Zimbabwe’s new power-sharing government in which Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s longstanding opponent, has taken the post of prime minister. They are still waiting to see if the new government will bring about real change in a country suffering from hyperinflation and economic breakdown.
Mugabe — who turned 85 last week and and will officially celebrate his birthday at a huge rally on Saturday — said his government wanted friendly relations with all nations and was still assessing new U.S. President Barack Obama’s policies.
"We are open. We want to discuss. We have never closed our doors," he said.
Mugabe expressed surprise at this week’s announcement by former colonial power Britain that it would offer help to hundreds of its elderly nationals in Zimbabwe to return home.
He said they were safe in Zimbabwe, where more than 300 British companies were still freely operating.
"They are free here. They are quite comfortable. It’s queer, strange thinking by the British. We don’t understand," he said.
The British government said on Monday that some elderly Britons in Zimbabwe were facing severe difficulties getting access to food, medicines and care, and it would offer them help to resettle.
Commenting on Western media reports that he bought a $5 million home in Hong Kong where his daughter is a university student, Mugabe said: "Of course not. There is a property in which our girl and a friend are staying, but we pay rent. What do I do with a house in Hong Kong?"