BINDURA, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's president, celebrating his 89th birthday, said Saturday he believes he will resoundingly defeat his opponents in elections this year and remain in power for another five years.
President Robert Mugabe cut an 89 kilogram (40 pound) cake at a sports arena in this mining town of Bindura, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) northeast of Harare. Youth groups of his ZANU-PF party said they walked to the bash to celebrate his "walk through a life of struggle against colonialism and Western imperialism."
Mugabe said he was confident his ZANU-PF party will triumph at the polls and accused his rivals of claiming a recent increase in political violence was intended to cover up an upcoming election defeat under the guise that the polls would not be free and fair.
The nation's central bank governor donated 89 cows to Mugabe.
Mugabe said he was moved by the gifts and all the "giving hearts" of his supporters.
"The love that comes from the heart is far more valuable than the presents," he said.
The local provincial governor Martin Dinha promised that free food at the venue for an estimated 20,000 people was plentiful and later in the evening there was to be "entertainment galore."
Officials of Mugabe's party reportedly collected donations of $600,000 for the occasion. As about 1.5 million Zimbabweans across the nation rely on food aid in the troubled economy, a diamond mining firm linked to Mugabe's loyalist police and military who control the eastern diamond fields helped pay for the two meter (six foot) long cake, the biggest of five lavish cakes on display.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, in a shaky coalition with Mugabe brokered by regional leaders after violent and disputed elections in 2008, was in central Zimbabwe on Saturday launching his party's campaign for a 'Yes' vote in a referendum on a new constitution on March 16. Parliamentary and presidential elections to end the coalition that are scheduled later, possibly around July.
The death of the 12-year-old son of an aspiring Tsvangirai election candidate in an alleged arson attack last Saturday was publicized with photographs of the charred corpse by Tsvangirai's party to attract international news headlines, Mugabe said.
He said police investigations into the death were still to be concluded. But police said Friday foul play was not suspected in the fire in a rural eastern stronghold of Mugabe's party.
In a nationwide birthday broadcast on state television late Friday, Mugabe said the coalition had become dysfunctional and was "never meant to go on forever."
He said Tsvangirai's former opposition wanted to cling to the financial privileges and power that belonging to the coalition gave them.
"They want to enjoy the ride to the maximum, they have never had it before and they know they will never have it again," he said.
"They are building a false picture of violence which we do not know anything about," Mugabe said.
Mugabe militants and loyalist security services are blamed for human rights abuses and vote rigging in previous elections over the past decade.
Human rights and civic groups say they have been the target of a worsening clampdown by police this year. In February, four groups were raided and had documents and equipment seized. On Friday, police seized 180 cheap, hand-cranked and solar powered radio receivers from a media freedom group in the second city of Bulawayo.
Police have banned the radios, saying they are capable of receiving what they call pirate stations beamed from outside the country that are not controlled by Mugabe's state broadcasting monopoly.
The Center for Community Development, an independent pro-democracy and education charity, said Saturday the clampdown was intended at cowing civic groups campaigning for free and fair polling.
"These trends are consistent with a venal and authoritarian state that has no regard whatsoever for people's rights and freedoms," the group said.