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Birthday bash for Mugabe

March 01, 2009|Associated Press

CHINHOYI, ZIMBABWE — With his nation's economy in shambles, President Robert Mugabe threw himself a lavish 85th birthday party Saturday, using the opportunity to call on Zimbabwe's last white farmers to leave.

"Land distribution will continue. It will not stop," Mugabe said in Chinhoyi, 60 miles from Harare. "The few remaining white farmers should quickly vacate their farms as they have no place there."

Mugabe was capitalizing on what has long been a sensitive issue in Zimbabwe and other nations in the region: the unjust division of land between whites and blacks that is a legacy of colonialism and white minority rule. Dozens of the several hundred white farmers left in Zimbabwe are challenging the right of the government to confiscate their land before a regional tribunal of African judges.

The birthday bash, which reportedly cost $250,000, was held as Zimbabwe's new unity government failed to secure financial aid to rescue the country's collapsed economy.

Zimbabwe faces the world's highest official inflation rate, a hunger crisis and a cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 4,000 people since August.

Mugabe, who turned 85 on Feb. 21, has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980. He was recently forced to form a unity government with longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai, who was made prime minister.

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