February 26, 2010 / 11:27 PM / 10 years ago

Zimbabwe's Mugabe, 86, to party amid distress

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe attends the swearing-in ceremony of his Mozambican counterpart Armando Guebuza for a second term in office in the capital Maputo, January 14, 2010. REUTERS/Grant Lee Neuenburg

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe celebrates his 86th birthday Saturday with a lavish party as the economy struggles to recover from crisis, showing no sign of planning to retire after 30 years in power.

Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party will fete the veteran ruler, whose birthday was actually on February 21, with an all-night concert among festivities which some critics estimate will cost

$500,000.

A power-sharing government set up by Mugabe and his bitter rival Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister, has stabilized the economy after the crisis which many Zimbabweans blame on Mugabe’s policies. But aid agencies say over two million Zimbabweans will still need food aid this year.

Government workers, who earn an average $160 per month, went on strike this month to press for higher wages, while the majority of the population lives below a $1 a day.

“Holding these huge celebrations, even as civil servants strike for better wages, shows that the inclusive government has done nothing to change the arrogance of ZANU-PF, which insists on maintaining a personality cult around its leader, Mugabe, by nationalizing what should be a private affair,” said John Makumbe, a veteran political commentator and Mugabe critic.

“It also shows the party’s priorities are not in line with the people’s aspirations.”

ZANU-PF will stage the party in Bulawayo, a city controlled by Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)

Critics say the combative Mugabe, who looks fit for his age, should step aside for a younger leader. But he won a fresh five-year mandate to lead ZANU-PF at its congress last December. Mugabe would be 89 at the next elections, which are expected in 2013.

Editing by David Stamp

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