HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s longtime President Robert Mugabe said Monday his party will not yield its victory in disputed elections and proclaimed he has disposed of his main political rivals, with whom he had ruled in a tense coalition government, “like garbage.”
In his first public speech since the July 31 elections, Mugabe spoke at the annual Heroes’ Day gathering at a national shrine in Harare that honors guerrillas killed in the war against white-minority rule in Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known before 1980.
Speaking in the local Shona language, Mugabe called on his main challenger, outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, to accept defeat, then dismissed him and his followers in scathing language.
“Those who are smarting from defeat can commit suicide if they so wish. But I tell them even dogs will not sniff at their flesh if they choose to die that way,” Mugabe said.
He described Tsvangirai as the “enemy” in his party’s midst during the shaky coalition brokered by regional leaders after the 2008 elections which were also disputed and, unlike the recent vote, were marked by widespread violence against opposition supporters.
Mugabe won the July 31 election with 61 percent of the vote, Zimbabwe’s electoral commission has announced, with Tsvangirai getting 34 percent. Tsvangirai, who alleges widespread rigging and is challenging the poll results in court, stayed away from Monday’s gathering.
“We have thrown the enemy away like garbage. They say we have rigged, but they are thieves,” Mugabe said, referring to alleged corruption during their time in government. “We say to them: You are never going to rise again.”
For his part, Tsvangirai said in a message to his supporters that Zimbabweans are “still shocked by the brazen manner in which their vote was stolen.”
“So many sons and daughters of this country sacrificed their lives … and one of the fundamental rights they toiled at, died for was the right to vote,” he said in a message marking Heroes’ Day in this former British colony.
The 89-year-old Mugabe insisted that Zimbabweans voted freely: “We are delivering democracy on a platter. Never will we go back on our victory.”
Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party won 158 parliament seats on July 31 versus 50 captured by Tsvangirai’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change that Mugabe accuses of receiving money and backing from Britain, the United States and other Western nations.
One banner displayed at the event at the North Korean-built Heroes’ Acre shrine which was attended largely by thousands of Mugabe supporters showed the party’s clenched fist salute and declared: “July 31. The day we buried imperialism.”
Mugabe, in his hour-long address broadcast on state radio and television, said voters confounded the country’s Western critics.
“We are proving wrong those who say we are not able to conduct our affairs without outside interference,” he said.
He said he thanked regional leaders and the continent-wide African Union organization for what he called “continuing to support our national efforts.”
African Union election observers have given cautious approval of the vote but are still compiling their final report. The Southern African Development Community, a regional political and economic bloc, judged the polling itself peaceful and credible but has yet to pronounce it fair.
Still, South African President Jacob Zuma, the chief regional mediator on Zimbabwe and whose country is the major player in SADC, has already sent congratulations to Mugabe on his victory
Western nations, prevented by Mugabe from sending observers, have condemned the vote for irregularities in voters’ lists and in elections procedures. Independent local observers also complained of irregularities.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Minister William Hague expressed what they called grave concerns over the fairness of the vote. The EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said in Brussels last week that economic sanctions against Mugabe and his party leaders to protest a decade of human and democratic rights abuses cannot be lifted unless the vote is deemed credible, free and fair.
Australia has called for fresh presidential and parliament elections before further economic measures can be eased.
The sanctions involve business, banking and travel bans on Mugabe’s party and its leaders.
Mugabe on Monday said he is grateful to “friendly countries who always wish us well and on this occasion have also done so.” China, Iran, Russia, Venezuela and several African presidents have congratulated Mugabe on his victory.
Tsvangirai’s lawyers said on Friday that they appealed the election results with the Constitutional Court. Attorney Chris Mhike said Tsvangirai wants the elections declared null and void and for fresh elections to be held in 60 days.
Mugabe’s office has said an inauguration will happen after court challenges to the poll are resolved.
Associated Press reporter Gillian Gotora in Harare, Zimbabwe contributed to this report.