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Zimbabwe political rivals vie for voters in diamond-rich region

  • Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe speaks in Gweru on December 7, 2012. Mugabe accused his political rivals Saturday of wanting to bring back "white people" and took a swipe at gay rights as campaigning gears up ahead of the July 31 election.AFP/File

  • The leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, addresses party supporters on July 7, 2013 at Rudhaka stadium in Marondera. Zimbabwe's political foes President Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai traded barbs on Saturday in a bid to woo voters ahead of the July 31 election.AFP/File

Zimbabwe's political foes President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai traded barbs on Saturday in a bid to woo voters ahead of the July 31 election.

The rivals hit the campaign trail in the diamond-rich east of the country with less than three weeks before the ballot box ends their tense unity government forced by chaotic 2008 polls.

"The choice is very simple, it is between a failed government over the past 33 years and a promise of a future which is very bright," said Tsvangirai, 61, in the town of Mutare, referring to Mugabe's uninterrupted hold on power.

The 89-year-old Mugabe, clad in a white church robe and holding a biblical staff, appealed for support to thousands of members of an indigenous church in Marange, about 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of the capital Harare.

"We made a mistake in 2008 to vote for the people who love the white people. Voting for people who want to bring back the white people and thinking that there won't be any development without white people," he said.

The veteran leader has focused on indigenisation and black empowerment, arguing that Zimbabwe must own its vast natural resources.

Tsvangirai is promising voters to fix the economy, clean up murky dealings, revive industry and attract much needed investment to create employment.

Addressing thousands of supporters wearing red t-shirts with his portrait, Tsvangirai vowed to promote transparency in the diamond mining sector.

"Where is the diamond money going? We know that if we get all the money from diamonds we would create 100,000 jobs," he said at a rally in a stadium in Mutare, 254 kilometres east of Harare.

"If all the diamond money comes through government we will be able to pay teachers and soldiers and not that the revenue benefit a few people."

Tsvangirai also pledged to examine diamond mining contracts, with the treasury saying that gem sales proceeds are not reaching it.

"For all the companies mining diamonds, we will review the contracts because the current contracts promote corruption," he said.

Mugabe too honed in on the country's natural riches to push his message of indigenisation of the economy.

"The rich resources that our country is endowed with are for the black people, this is our country. And those who must rule this country must be black people," he said.

Mugabe also attacked gay marriage, saying it was alien to Africa and criticised US President Barack Obama for urging Africa to respect gay rights on a recent visit to the continent.

"You heard it when Obama came to Africa saying Africa must allow gay marriages, even women to marry each other, so they can wed if they want," he said.

"God destroyed the earth because of these sins. Weddings are for a man and a woman, who when married they bear children," he said.

Mugabe who once said gays and lesbians are worse than pigs and dogs, said animals are better off because they know their sexual orientation.

Previous elections in Zimbabwe have been marred by bloodshed. Tsvangirai withdrew from a presidential run-off in 2008 despite winning the first round of polling to protest the violence.

This month's presidential election is aimed at ending the mediated unity deal which stemmed the country's economic nosedive but led to a fractious government.