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By Cris Chinaka

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe told a crowd of thousands at his birthday party on Saturday that Zimbabwe was under threat from imperialism, and delivered a blistering attack on gays.

Mugabe, who turned 82 on Tuesday and has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980, is struggling to contain an economic meltdown that includes the highest inflation rate in the world.

He frequently launches tirades against the West, which he accuses of sabotaging his once vibrant economy in retaliation for his seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks.

"Bear in mind that the monster of imperialism is continuously and dangerously lurking in the bush awaiting a more favourable opportunity to devour our national sovereignty," Mugabe said.

"We must never ever lose our sovereignty, our power to rule ourselves, our right as Zimbabweans to govern Zimbabwe, to determine our own destiny," he told the crowd at his official birthday party in the eastern city of Mutare, set in a scenic valley surrounded by rolling mountains.

Western governments and African church, labour and human rights groups have in turn accused Mugabe of stifling dissent and stealing elections through intimidation and fraud.

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Mugabe said Zimbabweans should remain "in a state of readiness to fight the enemies who might dare attack you, invade you or claim through the use of arms that a portion of Zimbabwe belongs to him. Unless you are committed to that, you are not a Zimbabwean in full."

In a one-hour speech, he recounted the history of colonialism and said black Zimbabweans were treated like slaves by whites.

Topics included the HIV/AIDS pandemic which Mugabe acknowledged was decimating the population, attacking what he called falling moral standards.

He also launched another blistering attack on homosexuality -- he has previously described gays as worse than dogs and pigs -- saying it was abhorrent.

He said in Shona, "leave whites to do that", and condemned churches for blessing gay marriages. He said his government would jail clergy who granted gay marriages in Zimbabwe.

Thousands, including schoolchildren, packed the local stadium to celebrate Mugabe's birthday and were entertained by song, dance and poetry.

The public celebrations, which saw Mugabe showered with gifts by government and party officials, came as Zimbabweans struggle with economic problems many blame on their leader, including chronic food, fuel, and foreign currency shortages.

Mugabe co-led Zimbabwe's national liberation war in the 1970s, but critics say he has ruined a once-prosperous country. Unemployment is 70 percent, while inflation is over 600 percent.

Mugabe denies the charges and accuses the West of seeking to replace him with a puppet government - Reuters
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