HARARE, Zimbabwe - Zimbabwe’s president vowed Friday to avenge Western economic curbs imposed on his ruling party by threatening to seize foreign-owned businesses and mining interests.
Under current empowerment laws, black Zimbabweans are slated to acquire a 51 percent stake in businesses. 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.”
Western countries imposed targeted restrictions on 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 Mugabe, 86.
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 Mugabe blame the economic meltdown on his party’s ruinous policies that began with the often violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms in 2000 in the former regional bread basket now dependent on food aid.
Mugabe also told about 4,500 party delegates at a teacher's college near Mutare, 160 miles 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 Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change party boycotted a presidential runoff poll, citing torture, intimidation and illegal arrests of his supporters.
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.
Mugabe has called for elections next year to bring the coalition to an end.
Tsvangirai’s party argues business takeovers are scaring away much-needed investment in commerce, industry and the nation’s failing infrastructure.
Mugabe on Friday dismissed demands by Tsvangirai that the next poll should only be a presidential runoff between them.
Delegates cheered when Mugabe said his party’s provincial representatives at the convention would have the final decision on whether to hold elections 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,” said Mugabe.