HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Friday called on his supporters to "kick and punish" groups of people he accused of committing acts of political violence in the name of his ruling ZANU-PF party.
The 93-year-old leader's comments could fuel political violence in the ZANU-PF party as the southern African nation gears up for elections in 2018, which Mugabe has said he wishes to contest.
Opponents have repeatedly accused ZANU-PF of using violence to win past elections and cling to power, charges the party denies.
Addressing a youth rally in Lupane, 450 km (279 miles) southwest of the capital Harare, Mugabe, said ZANU-PF should confront groups of people pretending to be ruling party members. The veteran leader has been in power since Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980.
"You should not allow those small groups to spoil our name. Wherever you see them, come on, seize them and get them out of the road and give them good punishment," Mugabe said at the end of a speech broadcast on state television.
"You don't need to have to wait for the police ... they are doing harm, they are committing crime, come on, hold them and kick them. Give them the punishment they deserve and call the police afterwards," he added, amid cheers from the crowd.
Mugabe also urged the youth wing of his party to ensure that young voters were registered for elections as the ageing leader bids to extend his long rule by another five years.
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by James Macharia and Toby Davis)