Thousands of people have packed the grounds of a plush hotel in Zimbabwe to celebrate the birthday of President Robert Mugabe, who turned 91 on Feb. 21.

Officials on Saturday sang praises to the former guerrilla leader in the resort town of Victoria Falls. Schoolchildren recited poems extolling Mugabe for confronting the West, which has criticized his human rights record.

Youth officials representing political parties from other countries, including South Africa's African National Congress, have lined up to laud Mugabe.

Over the decades, Mugabe has sidelined and sometimes crushed dissent, casting himself as a champion of post-colonial Africa.

This year, Mugabe became chairman of the 54-nation African Union. He is also head of a regional group of 15 southern African nations, offering support for elections held Saturday in Lesotho.