Robert Mugabe vows retaliation against West

HARARE, – Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe says the country will retaliate against Western economic curbs imposed on his party using measures that include the seizure of foreign-owned businesses and mining interests.\r\n

During a party convention Friday in the eastern city of Mutare, broadcast live on state television, President Robert Mugabe warned British and U.S firms "unless you remove sanctions we will take 100 percent." Under current empowerment laws, black Zimbabweans are slated to acquire a 51% stake in businesses.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe addressed his supporters at the Zanu-PF party’s conference in Mutare.

Western countries imposed targeted sanctions on Mr. Mugabe and his party elite to protest violations of democratic and human rights in a decade of political and economic turmoil in the southern African nation.

"Why shouldn’t we hit back? That includes companies that are mining gold and other minerals, and some have been here since before I was born, said Mr. Mugabe, who is 86 years old.

Mr. Mugabe said about 400 British firms and an unspecified number of American companies were operating in Zimbabwe.

He said sanctions had caused "immense difficulties" for the nation, but that he believed the discovery of large diamond fields near Mutare would help ease economic woes. "We have the resources to improve the lives of our people," he said.

Critics of Mr. Mugabe blame the country’s economic meltdown on his party’s ruinous policies that began with the often violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms in 2000. Zimbabwe, once the regional bread basket, is now dependent on food aid.

Mr. Mugabe also told about 4,500 party delegates at a teachers’ college near Mutare, 260 kilometers east of Harare, that he wanted to see laws introduced to punish Zimbabweans who supported sanctions with treason charges.

His party has repeatedly accused the former opposition of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, now in a fragile coalition government, of supporting the sanctions as part of a Western attempts for "regime change."

The coalition was formed after violence-marred elections in 2008 and Mr. Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change party boycotted a presidential runoff poll, citing torture, intimidation and illegal arrests of his supporters.

Mr. Mugabe said he regretted joining the coalition. "It has no policy, no philosophy … all it wants is regime change that the British and Americans have designed," he said.

Mr. Mugabe has called for elections next year to bring the coalition to an end.

Mr. Tsvangirai’s party argues business takeovers are scaring away much-needed investment in commerce, industry and the nation’s failing infrastructure.

Mr. Mugabe on Friday dismissed demands by Mr. Tsvangirai that the next poll should only be a presidential runoff between them.

Delegates cheered when Mr. Mugabe said his party’s provincial representatives at the convention would have the final decision on whether to hold elections in mid-2011.

He cautioned against violence surrounding future polling. "Don’t fight, but if someone is hitting you, don’t just stand there and take it," Mr. Mugabe said.