UPDATE 1-Mugabe praises resilient Zimbabweans, skirts bond notes

(Recasts with Mugabe on hardships)

HARARE, Dec 6 (Reuters) - President Robert Mugabe praised Zimbabweans on Tuesday for resilience in the face of economic hardship, in a speech that avoided the recent introduction of “bond notes”, a new currency that has raised fears of uncontrolled money-printing.

The southern African nation is grappling with a devastating drought that has left more than 4 million people facing hunger, while the worst financial crisis in seven years has fuelled some of the biggest anti-government protests in a decade.

Africa’s oldest leader, now aged 92, stumbled through a 30-minute State of the Nation speech in parliament that lavished praise on the security forces for maintaining “the peaceful environment that we have”.

“Let me conclude by paying tribute to our peace-loving people who have endured all manner of economic hardships since we embarked on the historic land-reform programme,” Mugabe said to grumbles from opposition benches and shouts of “bond notes”.

Critics accuse Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, of wrecking one of Africa’s most promising economies through policies such as the violent seizure of white-owned commercial farms and disastrous printing of money.

Zimbabwe launched the bond notes last week, despite warnings they could cause hyperinflation and suggestions they could end Mugabe’s long rule.

The notes are meant to ease the chronic cash shortages that have made long queues of people a daily occurrence outside banks that have been forced to impose stringent daily cash withdrawal limits.

Mugabe said his government had imported over 300,000 tonnes of maize following the drought and would give seed and fertilizer to 800,000 poor farmers in an attempt to lift maize production to 2 million tonnes next year. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Ed Cropley)