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At 90, Robert Mugabe pledges not to retire

Zimbabwe’s leader celebrates in huge stadium

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe says he is “fit as a fiddle” but, in a televised interview, he appeared frail.

AFP/Getty Images/File

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe says he is “fit as a fiddle” but, in a televised interview, he appeared frail.

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Marking his 90th birthday, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe said he is not ready to retire.

‘‘Why should it [retirement] be discussed when it is not due?’’ he said in an interview broadcast on state television. ‘‘The leadership still exists that runs the country. In other words I am still there . . . When the day comes and I retire . . . I do not want to leave my party in tatters. I want to leave it intact.’’

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Mugabe claimed he is ‘‘fit as a fiddle,’’ but he appeared frail in the prerecorded televised interview, at times stumbling over his words and slumping in his chair.

Mugabe’s actual birthday was Friday when he was in Singapore for cataract surgery on his left eye, according to the president’s office. He returned from Singapore on Saturday and will celebrate his birthday at a sports stadium Sunday.

Sunday’s birthday celebrations, estimated to cost $1 million, will be held in a 50,000-seat stadium in Marondera, 45 miles east of Harare, where organizers said potholed streets have been fixed for the event.

Critics say Mugabe will not discuss stepping down because he wants to die in office. ‘‘The truth is we are faced with a very sick president who doesn’t want to retire,’’ said analyst Ibbo Mandazasaid.

Mugabe’s 90th birthday comes amid speculation on Zimbabwe’s future when his grip on power loosens.

Vying to replace him are Vice President Joice Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.

In July, Mugabe who has ruled the nation since 1980, won disputed elections for another five-year term that will take him to age 94.

In his early years in power, Mugabe expanded public education and health services that were the envy of the continent. But Zimbabwe’s economy went into meltdown in 2000 after Mugabe ordered seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms, leading to the collapse of the agriculturally based economy, once the region’s breadbasket.

Unemployment has soared to an estimated 80 percent. Hundreds of long-established industries have closed, often blaming Mugabe’s new black empowerment laws that compel companies to give black Zimbabweans 51 percent control.

Mugabe has blamed the economic slump on Western economic sanctions, mostly travel and banking bans imposed on him personally and his closest associates, to protest human and democratic rights violations.

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