HARARE, Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe belittled his political opponents as puppets of Britain, saying during independence celebrations Friday that the former colonial ruler wants Zimbabwe back.
Mugabe's first major speech since the disputed March 29 elections was the main event of an Independence Day program that looked more like a rally for his party than a national celebration. Many in the crowd of 30,000 at a Harare sports stadium waved the ruling party's flag and wore T-shirts with its campaign slogan: "Vote for the fist."
Mugabe accused the opposition of wanting Zimbabwe to "go back to white people, to the British, the country we died for. It will never happen."
Zimbabwe, celebrating its 28th independence anniversary, is still awaiting results of the presidential vote nearly three weeks after the election. Independent tallies suggest opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won — but not by enough to prevent a runoff.
Tsvangirai's opposition Movement for Democratic Change has accused Mugabe of conspiring to maintain his 28-year grip on power by refusing to release the election results.
The legislative races also are in limbo. Results give control the opposition control of the parliament for the first time, but electoral officials say they have found problems with tallies in 23 constituencies — most won by opposition candidates. A recount is set for Saturday.
A judge dismissed an opposition attempt to stop the recount. "There is no merit to this application. The application is dismissed," Judge Antonia Guvava said Friday.
An earlier opposition appeal for the immediate release of the presidential election results also was dismissed this week. Courts here are stacked with Mugabe loyalists.
On Friday, Mugabe spoke calmly for more than hour, with no visible signs of tiring. He addressed the crowd mostly in the Shona language, instead of English — unusual for an event attended by diplomats and other foreign dignitaries.
"Beware. Be vigilant in the face of the vicious machinations of Britain and its other allies," Mugabe said. "Yesterday they ruled by brute force. Today they have perfected their tactics to be more subtle. They are literally buying people to turn against the government. We are being bought like sheep because they have money and because we are suffering."
The few passages in English included thanks to southern African leaders "for clearly articulating our case over the ... elections." Regional leaders who held an emergency summit last weekend issued a weak declaration that failed to criticize Mugabe.
"I want to thank South Africa in a special way for the role it has played in brokering our dialogue," Mugabe added in English.
Friday's holiday comes amid a government campaign of arrests, assaults and other intimidation designed to suppress political dissent following the vote.
The independent Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights said at least 200 people have been treated for severe injuries sustained in postelection violence. The group was investigating at least two reported but unconfirmed deaths.
Mugabe accused others of plotting violence. While he named no one, his comments could signal a further government crackdown.
"We know some people are planning that there will be places where there will be violence, with people burning shops and cars," he said. "Those who are planning this, please stop it immediately, otherwise you are going to be in serious trouble with us."
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Tsvangirai said Thursday in South Africa that he envisioned forming an "inclusive government" in which there would be places for ZANU-PF politicians and others — but not Mugabe.
MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said Friday his party and Mugabe's ZANU-PF discussed sharing power in the days immediately after the vote, but that the initiative broke down quickly.
It was the first time the opposition had spoken about such talks, with Chamisa saying ZANU-PF made the overture, asking for "assurance on Mugabe in the event of him stepping down."
Chamisa said he "didn't know what made Mugabe change his mind and be on the warpath again."
But in an indication of how far apart the two sides are, government spokesman Bright Matonga said the approach came from Tsvangirai, claiming the opposition leader proposed he serve as vice president and Mugabe remain as president. Matonga said the ZANU-PF politburo rejected the proposal.