Mugabe threatens nationalisation of British, US firms
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Friday threatened to nationalise British and American companies if a slew of international sanctions against him and his inner circle were not dropped.
The veteran leader told the annual conference of his ZANU-PF party that it was time to take "revenge" against the international community by using a law that allows the state to take over foreign firms operating on Zimbabwean soil.
Mugabe, 86, and his inner circle are subject to travel bans and asset freezes in the European Union and the United States, which accuse his government of human rights abuses and denials of basic freedoms.
The Indigenisation and Empowerment Act took effect on March 1, requiring large foreign corporations to give majority stakes to local shareholders.
Mugabe's arch-foe but power-sharing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) believes the law will deter much-needed investment in an economy that has been ravaged in the past decade.
International companies operating in Zimbabwe include BP, Total, Chevron, Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and platinum giant Zimplats.
"Why should we continue to have 400 British companies operating here freely?" Mugabe told more than 4,000 members of his ZANU-PF party in the eastern city of Mutare.
"Why should we continue having companies and organisations that are supported by Britain and America without hitting back? Time has come for us to revenge," he said to loud applause from supporters.
"We can read the riot act and say this is 51 percent we are taking and if the sanctions persist we are taking over 100 percent."
Mugabe, who for months has been pushing for new elections, also said the power-sharing government is not working and must end, putting him on a collision course with Tsvangirai and the former opposition MDC.
The two men have been at loggerheads for months amid mounting tension in a country where rights groups say hundreds of political activists were killed during the last presidential election in 2008.
Mugabe said the uneasy arrangement with the MDC should be dissolved.
"We agreed to work together... as a compromise to enable us to sort things out, establish peace, political stability, now some are dragging their feet, they don't want elections," he said.
"The GPA can't be allowed to continue," he added, referring to the Global Political Agreement with the MDC, who joined ZANU-PF in a makeshift unity government in February 2009.
The coalition has been beset by disagreements over how to handle the country's massive debt and food shortages, and internal haggling over who gets key jobs. Mugabe said the MDC had not honoured the deal.
"What it has done is to reveal and expose to us what we did not know, now we know this creature the MDC, has no policy, no ideology, no philosophy except change, change," he said, opening the conference.
"I hear the MDC only want presidential elections. Whatever elections will be held must be elections that are held together," he added, demanding that a parliamentary ballot take place on the same day as a presidential vote.
Africa's oldest leader wants elections to be held next year, but the MDC has said key reforms must be put in place first to ensure a free and fair vote.
ZANU-PF delegates at the party conference in Mutare, however, are on Saturday expected to rubber stamp the party leader's push for polls.
In March 2008, Tsvangirai won the presidential election defeating Mugabe, but he fell short of the required majority resulting in a run-off ballot which the MDC leader refused to take part in, allowing Mugabe to win unopposed.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai formed the compromise administration six months later.
The MDC has previously said credible polls are not possible until 2012 at the earliest.
"Mr Mugabe and ZANU-PF cannot win a free and fair election in Zimbabwe," said MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa.
"They think they can use the bullet and muscle instead of the ballot to win an election. Mr Mugabe and ZANU-PF are losers and they know it."
© 2010 AFP