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Mugabe says ruling party 'wide awake' for Zimbabwe elections

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ President Robert Mugabe said his ruling party had lost ground to the opposition through complacency, but would win this weekend's presidential election because it was ``now wide awake,'' state radio reported Tuesday.

Mugabe also described the opposition Movement for Democratic Change as ``a donkey being controlled by the British,'' the former colonial power that tried to suspend Zimbabwe from the 54-nation Commonwealth organization.

``We are now wide awake,'' Mugabe, referring to his ruling ZANU-PF, said at a rally Monday. ``We won't let the (Movement for Democratic Change) win.''

Mugabe, 78, is fighting for political survival after 22 years as president. His main rival in the March 9-10 election is MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

The fledgling MDC won 57 of 120 elected seats in the June 2000 parliamentary elections as Mugabe's popularity plunged amid economic devastation and chaos.

The opposition accuses the government of using violence, intimidation and new security laws to cow its voters and to prevent it from campaigning effectively.

About 150 people have been killed over the past two years in violence blamed mainly on ruling party militants.

A State Department human rights report issued Monday accused Zimbabwe of killings, undermining the judiciary's independence and waging a ``systematic campaign of violence'' against the opposition.

Freedom of the press and freedom of assembly also were severely restricted, it said.

On Monday, Mugabe thanked African leaders for refusing to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, an organization of Britain and its former territories, at the recent Australia summit.

Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand demanded Zimbabwe's suspension to protest the violence and human rights abuses.

Leaders instead agreed to await a report by 64 Commonwealth monitors on whether the presidential election is free and fair.

Mugabe said that decision was ``a victory against Britain's attempts to introduce a new form of apartheid'' to serve Western interests in developing countries.

Tendai Biti, the MDC's foreign affairs spokesman, said Mugabe was trying to hide the violence and intimidation behind his rift with Britain.

``It is not a Zimbabwe-Britain crisis. Our people are being brutalized by fellow black Zimbabweans. This is the issue we would want our African brothers to have understood,'' he said.

African leaders closed ranks at the Commonwealth summit out of fear for their own power, he said.

``The problems of human rights and good governance are mirrored in their countries,'' Biti said.

The state-run Herald newspaper, a government mouthpiece, said Tuesday that British Prime Minister Tony Blair showed personal arrogance, an obsession with Mugabe and ``the shallowness of his commitment to democracy'' by pushing for Zimbabwe's suspension.

Foreign diplomats based in Harare said police prevented them from finishing a Monday meeting with Tsvangirai to discuss food shortages.

Police declared the meeting illegal under new security laws requiring police permission for political gatherings.

State radio also reported Monday that three opposition lawmakers tried to bribe Zimbabwe's air force commander to help calm security forces if Mugabe were removed. Opposition officials said that claim was a government smear.
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