HARARE, Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe threatened to expel the U.S. ambassador, criticizing him in a speech Sunday for advice he has given Mugabe's opponent in a presidential runoff.
Mugabe, speaking at the formal launch of his campaign for the June 27 runoff, noted Ambassador James McGee had publicly urged opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to return to Zimbabwe to lead his embattled supporters. Tsvangirai returned Saturday after more than six weeks abroad.
"As long as he carries on doing that, I will kick him out of the country," Mugabe said of McGee, a Vietnam War veteran. "I don't care if he fought in Vietnam. This is Zimbabwe, not an extension of America."
Mugabe also ridiculed claims the opposition leader was the target of a military assassination plot.
"Tsvangirai is running around telling people I want to kill him," Mugabe said. "I don't even have a bow and arrow."
Mugabe spoke for an hour and a half, with energy belying his 84 years.
Independent human rights groups, McGee and other diplomats and the opposition party say opposition supporters have been beaten and killed by government and ruling party thugs to ensure Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, wins the runoff. Mugabe trailed Tsvangirai in the first round on March 29.
Tsvangirai left soon after the first round — in which he won the most votes, but not enough for outright victory — to warn the world about impending violence. He first tried to return May 17, but called that off after his party said he was the target of a military assassination plot. Tsvangirai has survived at least three assassination attempts.
Tsvangirai released a statement Sunday saying he was confident Zimbabweans would stand up to "tyranny" on June 27.
"For too long, Zimbabwe has been isolated, first from the international community and now from the African community, due to the policies of intolerance and repression imposed upon us by Robert Mugabe," Tsvangirai said. "For too, long we have suffered under the burden of economic hardship and poverty as a result of misguided policies."
In his speech Sunday, Mugabe returned to his theme of portraying Tsvangirai as a stooge of the West, charges the opposition rejects.
"We have an enemy who wants us to go back to be ruled by the whites," Mugabe said.
He claimed former colonial ruler Britain and the United States had celebrated the opposition's showing in the first round. In addition to Tsvangirai coming first in a field of four in the presidential race, his Movement for Democratic Change won control of parliament — the first time Mugabe's ZANU-PF lost parliament since independence.
"You saw the joy the British had, the Americans had, you saw them celebrating as if Zimbabweans are an extension of Britain and America," Mugabe said Sunday.
"Some of you want to sell your country for candy, like children," Mugabe told state television viewers in a country where inflation has spiraled to the point many people cannot afford basic necessities. The economic crisis was a major concern for voters in March.
"What we know is a family is having problems and we should unite as a family against outsiders," Mugabe said Sunday.
His party launched a new campaign look Sunday. A pop band, rather than the usual military ensemble, played the national anthem at the start of the rally at party headquarters, attended by several thousand people.
Mugabe had appeared stern-faced, with his fist raised on posters for the March vote. New posters showed him smiling, but still raising a fist, and the slogan: "100 percent empowerment, total independence."