HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Military jets tore overhead, colorful balloons floated aloft and spectators pounced on free fast food on Thursday at the inauguration of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who delivered a searing rebuke of Western countries for their criticism of the disputed election that has extended the former guerrilla’s tight grip on power well into its fourth decade.
In a typically defiant speech, Mugabe, who was sworn in for another five-year term at the age of 89, dismissed charges of voting fraud, vowed to press ahead with black ownership of white and foreign-owned companies and attacked gays. He took the oath of office at a 60,000-seat sports stadium filled almost to capacity. Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku bedecked him with a green, red, black and gold presidential sash and the gold chain of office.
Dozens of buses brought Mugabe party supporters to the stadium, set amid the impoverished townships of western Harare, and four leading fast food chains delivered fried chicken portions, fries and soda drinks in take-out packages after receiving orders for 80,000 portions, organizers and food company executives said. Party supporters thronged the food delivery trucks outside the stadium. Police, some on horseback, marshaled food lines that swelled during formalities
Previous inaugurations after elections since independence have been held in the gardens of Mugabe’s State House offices before small numbers of VIPs and invited guests. There was no official explanation why this event was made into a massive inauguration that takes Mugabe, in ailing health, to the next elections in 2018, when he will be 94.
Mugabe, who led Zimbabwe to independence in 1980, signed a declaration pledging to protect the rights of the people and promised to ensure “durable peace” in Zimbabwe, which has been plagued by political and economic turmoil in recent years.
The main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, did not attend the event, calling it “a robber’s party.”
Zimbabwe’s state election panel said Mugabe won a landslide victory in the July 31 elections with 61 percent of the presidential vote.
At the inauguration, elder African statesman Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia sat with other ex-presidents as well as the current leaders of Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, Mozambique, Namibia and Congo. South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, the chief regional mediator on ZImbabwe’s crisis, was on an official trip to Angola and sent his vice president instead. Also attending was former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the previous mediator for the Southern African Development Community, a 15-nation political and economic bloc that has supported Mugabe.
Mugabe said Africa and many nations around the world “hailed our elections as free and fair and credible” with the exception of “a few dishonest Western countries” that condemned the way the vote was conducted.
“These Western countries hold a different negative view of the electoral process. Well, there’s nothing we can do about their moral turpitude,” Mugabe said.
“We are not curtsying or bowing to any foreign government, however powerful it is or whatever filthy lucre it flaunts. We abide by the judgment of Africa. America dares raise a censorious voice to contradict Africa’s verdict. Who gave them the gift of seeing better than all of us?” Mugabe said.
Britain, the former colonial power, the European Union and the United States will likely maintain economic restrictions on Mugabe and leaders of his ruling party. The West has pushed for democratic reform in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe had declared the day a public holiday, businesses were closed and downtown Harare was virtually deserted, similar to a Sunday.
A handful of Western diplomats were placed in a distant, upper tier of the stadium’s stands on Thursday.
Soldiers fired a 21-gun artillery salute as military jets flew overhead. Musicians played for the crowds, many wearing the regalia of Mugabe’s party, flags and cotton cloth emblazoned with his portrait, some of it given out at the entrance gates. Hundreds of helium balloons in the colors of the national flag were released at the Chinese-built National Sports Stadium.
Mugabe vowed to push ahead with a black empowerment program that he said will create jobs and economic growth that had been hindered by what he called “a tenuous and fraught coalition with uneasy partners” in the opposition led by outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who had favored attracting Western investment during the five-year coalition forged by regional leaders after the last disputed elections in 2008.
Mugabe also urged Zimbabweans to reject homosexuality.
“We hope you damn as much as we damn the doctrine that man can marry man and woman can marry a woman,” he said. “Let’s not go against nature.”
Associated Press reporter Gillian Gotora in Harare contributed to this report