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    Profile on Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe, who turns 70 on Saturday.

    Zimbabwe President Robert?

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    Profile on Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe, who turns 70 on Saturday.

    Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is celebrating his
    80th birthday on Saturday (February 21).

    Mugabe suggested on Friday in an interview marking his
    birthday that he would retire as president within five
    years. He said he will not leave politics, but will have
    retired in five years.

    Mugabe has been in power since his country's
    independence from Britain in 1980. He has left his
    retirement plans open over the past year despite
    speculation he wants a graceful exit in the face of a
    severe economic and political turmoil critics blame on his

    Mugabe won another six-year term as president in 2002
    polls contested as fraudulent by the opposition, and has
    previously dismissed speculation he would not sit out his

    Mugabe denies mismanaging Zimbabwe's economy, which has
    record unemployment and inflation, as well as shortages of
    foreign currency, fuel and food. He says the economy has
    been sabotaged by opponents of his forcible redistribution
    of white-owned farms among landless blacks.

    Hailed at independence in 1980 as a model African
    democrat, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is now widely
    seen as a tyrant who destroyed his once rich southern
    African state.

    During the war for independence he was known in liberal
    international circles as the thinking man's guerrilla. His
    political career began in 1960 with the formation of the
    National Democratic Party. A teacher by profession he was
    jailed in 1964 for 10 years for fighting white minority
    rule. After his release he went into exile in Mozambique
    where he and nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo joined forces
    to form the Patriotic Front guerrilla alliance.

    The turning point in the seven-year war came when
    Mugabe and Nkomo agreed to attend talks convened by the
    British government. Three months of intensive negotiations
    led to the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement which
    oversaw the transition to majority rule. After his election
    as the country's first black prime minister Mugabe offered
    forgiveness and reconciliation.

    In spite of their military alliance the old rivalries
    separating Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU)
    and Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) were
    never quelled. In 1987, two years of talks culminated in an
    agreement to merge the two parties, creating a one-party

    In 1990 Mugabe stood unopposed for the newly created
    post of Executive President incorporating the roles of
    prime minister, president and chief of the armed forces. He
    won re-election in 1996 after again standing unopposed, his
    two challengers having withdrawn their candidacy shortly
    before polling day.

    In August 1996 Mugabe married his former secretary
    Grace Marufu, mother of two of his children, at a formal
    wedding ceremony attended by African leaders and barefoot
    villagers. Mugabe's first wife Sally died in 1992. Mugabe
    and Marufu, who is 40 years his junior, are reported to
    have married months later the same year in a traditional
    African ceremony.

    As Zimbabwe's debt burden began to weigh heavily and a
    younger generation of voters responded less
    enthusiastically to his liberation war record, Mugabe
    shored up his base with patronage. An increasingly
    independent trade union movement defeated his attempts to
    raise fuel and food prices and rejected a proposed tax to
    fund war-veteran grants.

    Mugabe tasted defeat for the first time when voters in
    a referendum rejected a new constitution that would have
    given him yet more powers. He turned on the small white
    minority, blaming them for the referendum defeat.

    He pushed legislation through parliament allowing the
    seizure of more than half the white-owned farms and did
    nothing to stop self-styled war veterans, many of them too
    young to have fought in the liberation conflict, from
    occupying farms, often with violence.

    In 2000 Mugabe's ZANU-PF party narrowly won
    parliamentary elections, gaining 62 parliamentary seats to
    the opposition MDC's (Movement for Democratic Alliance) 57

    Two years later Mugabe succeeded in beating the MDC's
    candidate Morgan Tsvangirai in violence-scarred
    presidential elections that observers condemned as flawed
    and unfair. Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth
    and Western countries imposed travel and economic sanctions
    on Mugabe and his government.

    In spite of the travel restrictions Mugabe was invited
    by French President Jacques Chirac to attend a
    Franco-African summit in Paris in February 2003. The
    invitation sparked protests and angered a number of Western

    As unemployment and inflation have soared and severe
    shortages of food and fuel have dramatically increased the
    desperation of the already beleaguered population, Mugabe
    continues to blame Zimbabwe's dwindling white minority and
    an alleged British-led Western conspiracy for the country's
    economic woes.


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    Reuters - Source to be Verified
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