Zimbabwe's leader on Tuesday urged lawmakers in the troubled coalition government to preach messages of peace ahead of proposed elections _ and after years of violence that rights groups blame on President Robert Mugabe and his security forces.
"Let's in unison say no to violence in all its manifestations," Mugabe said as he opened a new session of parliament in Harare.
Mugabe last week called for polls in March, after calling frequently in recent weeks for an end to the fragile coalition that was formed after disputed 2008 elections.
He said coalition partners have agreed on "timelines" to polling but did not elaborate.
Mugabe called on the nation's leaders to preach messages of peace, reconciliation and national healing after a decade of bitter rivalry between Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party and the ZANU-PF party under his authoritarian control.
"Rather than amplify our differences, let's find strength in our diversity," he said Tuesday.
Witnesses, however, reported minor scuffles among some restive rival party supporters gathered in the midday heat outside the parliament house.
Mugabe said the new session of the parliament will frame legislation for a referendum on constitutional reforms before elections can be held.
Mugabe lost a constitutional referendum in 1999, his only outright defeat in polling since independence in 1980. His party was accused of widespread violence and vote-rigging in presidential and parliament elections the following year.
The nation's judges, in shoulder-length judicial wigs and scarlet robes, filed into the parliament house ahead of Mugabe, who arrived in an open vintage British-made Bentley limousine. The annual reopening is traditionally modeled on colonial-era pomp and ceremony.
Mugabe, 87, spoke for about 40 minutes. He appeared eloquent and confident, just as new revelations on his ailing health in leaked diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks gripped the nation.
U.S. diplomatic cables released over the weekend on the whistleblower site claimed former U.S. Ambassador James McGee reported being told in 2008 Mugabe was suffering from prostate cancer that had spread and would likely kill him by 2013.
Mugabe's party spokesman Rugare Gumbo on Tuesday denied he is terminally ill.
"This is only providing excitement to the media. People are relishing in it," Gumbo said at the parliament opening.
Mugabe has traveled to Singapore for medical treatment four times this year. His office confirmed one trip was for eye surgery but it has also been widely reported he received cancer treatment.
Another leaked U.S. cable reported that Mugabe was seen checking into a Singapore cancer facility this year.
The flurry of new cables on Zimbabwe have caused a frenzy in both the state and independent media. They also alleged there were deep divisions both in Mugabe's party and among Tsvangirai's closest aides, including one who called the prime minister weak and indecisive. The cables spoke of hypocrisy among politicians and frequent "back-stabbing and betrayal."
The independent Daily News on Tuesday said the leaks had sent "shockwaves" across the country and plunged it into further tension.
"This is a potential minefield ... What is crucial is to find a way out of the dangerous situation that has been created by the leaked cables," it said.
Associated Press writer Gillian Gotora contributed to this report from Harare.