HARARE (AFP) ― Veteran leader Robert Mugabe was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s president for another five-year term Thursday before a stadium packed with tens of thousands of jubilant supporters.
Mugabe, 89, pledged “to observe, uphold and defend the constitution of Zimbabwe” in an oath administered by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, extending his 33-year rule.
Supporters clad in clothes emblazoned with the image of the man who has lead their nation since independence in 1980 filled the 60,000-seater venue, a show of force after elections many say were rigged.
|Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (third from left) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s special envoy, Minister of Civil Affairs Li Liguo (second from left), after he was sworn in for another five-year term at the National Sports Stadium in Harare on Thursday. ( Xinhua-Yonhap News)|
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai insists the July 31 vote was stolen and his party boycotted the inauguration.
Tsvangirai’s spokesman said the opposition leader “can’t attend a robber’s party.”
Former colonial power Britain has called for an “independent investigation” into the conduct of the election, which Mugabe officially won by a landslide.
Unlike previous low-key investitures, Thursday’s event ― replete with banners, flags and chants ― carried strong echoes of Mugabe’s inauguration as prime minister of a newly independent Zimbabwe in 1980.
A no-show by many neighboring leaders ― including President Jacob Zuma of regional power-broker South Africa ― did little to dampen enthusiasm.
Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete, Namibia’s Hifikepunye Pohamba and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila were among those leaders who did attend.
Mugabe was greeted in the stadium by thunderous cheers and whistling when he arrived with his wife on board a military truck.
Gates to the Chinese-built stadium, the venue of Mugabe’s inauguration as president in 1987, opened shortly after dawn.
The day was declared a public holiday, helping boost attendance.
“Mr Mugabe, you are one of a kind,” sang a group of supporters slamming the sides of the minibus taking them to the stadium, while others waved fists as drivers honked their horns.
“It is a great day for Zimbabwe and the world will come to a standstill today,” said Alfred Tome, the Harare provincial administrator and spokesman for the organizers.
A concert will include artists from South Africa, Zambia and Jamaica ― whose iconic Bob Marley played at Zimbabwe’s independence event.
Banners around the oval stadium carried messages praising African leaders and denouncing western governments accused of meddling in Zimbabwe’s political affairs.
“Which African ever observed elections in Europe, America?” read one banner. “Africa has spoken, respect it’s voice,” said another.
The inauguration had been delayed after Tsvangirai challenged the poll results in a petition to the Constitutional Court that was later dropped.
The Constitutional Court confirmed Mugabe as president and declared the elections “free, fair and credible,” saying the results “reflected the free will of the people of Zimbabwe.”