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Mugabe thanks China for steadfast support

by Staff Writers
Shanghai (AFP) Aug 11, 2010
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe Wednesday thanked China for its steadfast support as he visited the World Expo in Shanghai and called for help in reviving his country's shattered economy.

Mugabe expressed his deep gratitude to Beijing and called for deeper cooperation, at a time when his country is struggling with a decade of acute food shortages.

"China has always stood by Zimbabwe," Mugabe said as he presided over Zimbabwe Day at the Expo.

"It is thus natural and logical for us to forge a strategic relationship with an all-weather friend as the People's Republic of China."

China is not a party to international sanctions on Mugabe, who is the subject of a Western travel ban and asset freeze.

He spoke a day after the United Nations' food agencies said 133,000 tonnes of food aid would be needed to help 1.68 million Zimbabweans between now and the next harvest in May.

Once a breadbasket of southern Africa, Zimbabwe's food shortages have been brought on by drought and Mugabe's crippling land-reform programme.

Mugabe said his country had "immensely benefited" from China's "generosity in several areas, including the supply of agricultural materials, and food assistance where inclement weather has affected our harvests".

He called for Beijing to expand cooperation with Zimbabwe under the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, or FOCAC, through which China invests in African countries in exchange for oil, copper and other materials it needs to fuel its breakneck economic expansion.

China has invested billions of dollars in Africa, raising eyebrows in the West, but many African leaders have praised China for not preaching about human rights and corruption.

With Zimbabwe's economy crippled by widespread problems, mining is the country's main foreign currency earner. Zimbabwe has huge coal, gold, platinum and diamond deposits.

Zimbabwe was due to resume selling diamond stocks on Wednesday -- which Mugabe says have the potential to revive the country -- after international investigators confirmed the military had left the blood diamond trade.

earlier related report
Deby criticises French military presence in Chad
Ndjamena (AFP) Aug 11, 2010 - Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno criticised France's military presence in the country Wednesday in comments to mark the 50th anniversary of independence from its former colonial ruler.

The veteran leader told reporters that his government would seek financial compensation for allowing France to maintain its military operation, codenamed Epervier (Sparrowhawk), which he said "is no longer playing a role" in Chad.

"It's now 20 years since Epervier exists and it no longer playing a role apart from providing some healthcare for the sick and logistical support in case of an attack somewhere," he said.

"We are going to review the accord.... France pays nothing to Chad apart from some goods which come in through customs.

"If France wants to stay in Chad and use its planes, train its men, there is a price to pay and the accord will allow us to clarify what France must pay Chad."

"On the other hand, if France says that it does not have the means to pay and that it wants to leave, we will maintain the best possible relations but we won't stop Epervier from leaving," he said.

"We have no defence accord with France. And the presence of Epervier has nothing to do with our independence or our sovereignty. Epervier is not here to help or support a government or a regime."

The French government said it would examine Deby's remarks, but reiterated its commitment to Chad.

"If the wishes (of Deby) are confirmed to us officially in the framework of bilateral relations, then of course, we would be ready to examine them," defence ministry spokesman Laurent Teisseire told AFP.

"The objective of France is not to leave Chad, but to have an area of operational cooperation," he said.

France has around 1,100 soldiers based in Chad and 800 others are serving in a UN-led force to protect refugees in eastern Chad, mostly from Darfur in western Sudan.

However, in January the Chadian government said it wanted the 3,300-strong UN Mission to the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) to leave the country.

The UN Security Council in May ordered the withdrawal to be completed by the end of the year, at Chad's request.

Deby said the UN mission was "a failure," and accused the troops of remaining behind the safety of their razor-wire fences and not venturing out to help refugees.

France launched Operation Epervier in 1986, sending forces into Chad to prop up then-president Hissene Habre, who was under attack from Libya. The French troops have since maintained a presence near Ndjamena airport and in the eastern city of Abeche.

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