HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans gathered Wednesday to show their support for 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe in the capital, Harare.
The massive turnout was organized by Mugabe’s ruling party, ZANU-PF, in response to recent anti-government demonstrations and a nationwide strike protesting Zimbabwe’s rapidly declining economy.
Wearing ZANU-PF T-shirts, dresses and hats and some draped in Zimbabwe’s flag, Mugabe’s followers sang and chanted slogans calling for the president to rule for life. They denounced organizers of anti-government campaigns and warned of unspecified action against dissenting voices.
Mugabe’s supporters blocked traffic in downtown Harare before converging at the ruling party’s 15-story headquarters.
Speakers promised to parcel out urban land for housing to youths, amid slogans against pastor Evan Mawarire, whose social media campaign #ThisFlag has criticized Mugabe and prompted a nation-wide strike on July 6.
“You go around claiming you are tired of the president. Our president is delivering on his promises. You want to disturb him, we are here to defend him,” said ZANU-PF youth leader Kudzai Chipanga.
He said Mugabe had made plans to distribute more than 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of urban land countrywide for youth housing projects.
Zimbabwe, ruled by Mugabe for 36 years, has seen rising discontent due to a sharply deteriorating economy and alleged corruption and human rights abuses.
Mugabe on Tuesday criticized those supporting the #ThisFlag campaign. Mugabe told them to leave Zimbabwe if they are unhappy with conditions at home.
A pro-Mugabe demonstration dubbed the million man march in May attracted similarly huge crowds.