Monday, 14 October, 2019
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Iraq military admits ‘excessive force’ used in deadly protests

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Iraq’s military admitted for the first time Monday it had used “excessive force” in nearly a week of deadly protests, as paramilitary units said they were ready to back the government.

More than 100 people have been killed and several thousand wounded in demonstrations increasingly spiralling into violence, with witnesses reporting security forces using water cannons, tear gas and live rounds.

On Sunday evening a mass protest in Sadr City in east Baghdad led to clashes that medics and security forces said left 13 people dead.

In videos distributed on social media, protesters could be seen ducking into streets littered with burning tyres as a volley of gunfire and suspected heavy weapons were heard.

“Excessive force outside the rules of engagement was used and we have begun to hold accountable those commanding officers who carried out these wrong acts,” the military said.

It said Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi had ordered those forces to be replaced with federal police units and the intelligence services to open an investigation into the incident.

It was the first time since protests broke out that security forces acknowledged using disproportionate measures, after the premier insisted they had been acting “within international standards” in dealing with demonstrations.

Across Baghdad on Monday morning as in several southern cities, streets were reopening and no protests could be seen, although demonstrators typically gather in the late evening.

– Reform pledges –

Sadr City, a densely populated, impoverished part of the capital, is a bastion of firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr who has thrown his weight behind the protests by calling on Abdel Mahdi’s government to resign.

But the embattled premier instead announced a series of reforms to create jobs, boost social welfare and oust corrupt officials.

He has accused “saboteurs” of infiltrating the protests, a claim echoed by the Hashed al-Shaabi, a powerful network of mostly-Shiite, pro-Iran paramilitary units.

“We know who stands behind these protests. The plan to bring down the regime has failed,” its chief Faleh al-Fayyadh told journalists in Baghdad.

He said his forces would support actions against corrupt institutions but not “the fall of the regime,” a chant which has featured more prominently in the protests in recent days.

“Those who wanted to defame Iraq will be punished,” Fayyadh said, adding that his forces were “ready for any government order.”

His words echoed a statement earlier Monday by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who accused “enemies” of trying to drive a wedge between Tehran and Baghdad.

“Enemies seek to sow discord but they’ve failed & their conspiracy won’t be effective,” Khamenei was quoted as saying on his office’s Twitter account.

Iran has urged its citizens planning to take part in a major Shiite pilgrimage in Iraq to delay their travel into the country over the violence.

Baghdad has close but complicated ties with Tehran, which enjoys significant influence among its Shiite political groups, but is also an ally of Washington.

On Monday, Abdel Mahdi said he discussed the recent events and reform plans in a phone call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, without providing further details.

And Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov landed in Baghdad to meet top officials.

Hold the vodka: Russians cut drinking 40 percent under Putin

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Russians might have a reputation as a nation of hard drinkers, but a report by the World Health Organization published Tuesday showed their alcohol consumption has dropped by more than 40 percent from its peak in the early 2000s.

The WHO put the decrease down to a raft of measures brought in since sport-loving President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, including restrictions on alcohol sales and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.

“The Russian Federation has long been considered one of the heaviest-drinking countries in the world,” the report said, adding that alcohol was a major contributor to a spike in deaths in the 1990s.

“However, in recent years these trends have been reversed.”

The study showed a 43 percent drop in alcohol consumption per capita from 2003 to 2016, driven by a steep decline in the consumption of bootleg booze.

The authors said this trend was a factor in increased life expectancies, which reached a historic peak in 2018, at 78 years for women and 68 years for men. In the turbulent early 1990s, male life expectancy was just 57.

Under Putin, Russia has introduced measures including a ban on shops selling any alcohol after 11:00 pm, increases in the minimum retail price of spirits and an advertising blackout.

– ‘More civilised’ –

In a central Moscow bar that specialises in beer, drinkers said they thought people were cutting down partly because of the restrictions, particularly on late-night alcohol sales in shops, but also due to changing lifestyles.

“We drink less, at least some of us,” said Alexander Sukhontsov, a 28-year-old bank employee, adding that people’s busy schedules mean they “just don’t have the time”.

“People have changed their approach to drinking,” said Roman Pechnikov, a 38-year-old computer scientist.

“Bars have become more civilised, and people do not drink until the end of the night,” he said

Last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was so concerned at habitual drinking among workers that he led a massively unpopular anti-alcohol campaign with partial prohibition, which brought down consumption from the mid-1980s until 1990.

But after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, alcohol consumption exploded, continuing to rise until the start of the 2000s. President Boris Yeltsin was also notorious for embarrassing public incidents that appeared to be alcohol-fuelled.

By contrast, Putin is almost never seen drinking in public, although he is not teetotal and this month raised a glass of vodka while visiting the North Caucasus.

Earlier WHO figures showed Russian adults now drink less alcohol on average than their French and German counterparts.

Moscow has also launched a drive against smoking, last week announcing a ban on lighting up even on private balconies.

Tobacco use plummeted by more than a fifth between 2009 and 2016, down to 30 percent of Russians smoking, according to the most recent Global Adult Tobacco Survey.

N.Korea says to hold nuclear talks with US on Saturday

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North Korea on Tuesday said it will hold working-level nuclear talks with the US on Saturday, signalling the resumption of much-anticipated negotiations after the collapse of a summit in February.

The two sides agreed to have “preliminary contact” on October 4 and hold working-level negotiations the following day, the North’s vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

“It is my expectation that the working-level negotiations would accelerate the positive development of the DPRK-US relations,” she added without disclosing the talks’ venue.

North Korean officials were “ready” to enter the discussions, she said.

Negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have been gridlocked since a second summit between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump in February ended without a deal.

The two agreed to restart working-level dialogue during an impromptu meeting at the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas in June, but the North’s anger at a US refusal to cancel joint military deals with South Korea placed the process on hold.

Relations thawed last month after Trump fired his hawkish national security advisor John Bolton, who Pyongyang had repeatedly denounced as a warmonger.

North Korea’s chief negotiator also responded positively to Trump’s suggestion that the two sides try a “new method” of approaching their discussions.

Trump had criticised Bolton’s suggestion of the “Libyan model” for North Korea, a reference to a denuclearisation deal with the African nation’s former dictator Moamer Kadhafi — who was killed after being deposed in 2011.

Pyongyang had bristled at that comment, which Trump said had “set us back very badly”.

Despite the gridlock, Pyongyang has continued to praise Trump, calling him “bold” and “wise”.

South Korea’s presidential Blue House welcomed the resumption of dialogue between the North and the US.

“We hope to see the realisation of practical steps towards permanent peace regime and complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula through the upcoming talks,” said spokeswoman Ko Min-jung.

Bomb explodes injuring five in southern Turkey: state media

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Five people were injured on Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded as a bus carrying police drove by in the southern Turkish province of Adana, state media reported.

The blast in Adana was either an “improvised explosive device or a different type of bomb”, the governor, Mahmut Demirtas, told Anadolu news agency.

One of those hurt was a police officer, he said, but the casualties did not suffer serious injuries.

The other four injured were passers-by, Demirtas added.

“The injured are in a really good condition. Citizens went to the hospital as a precaution. There are no issues for our police,” Demirtas said after police and ambulance services rushed to the scene.

Images in Turkish media showed the damaged bus underneath a footbridge in Yuregir district.

The Adana governor did not speculate on who carried out the bombing.

Turkey was hit by a series of terror attacks in 2015 and 2016 which killed hundreds of people and were blamed on the Islamic State extremist group and Kurdish militants.

Tailoring peace: Colombian ex-rebels turn to fashion

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Once dressed to kill as they stalked the Colombian jungle, a group of young former FARC rebels have shed their camouflage fatigues, boots and guns to help ease their way back into society following a 2016 peace deal.

The ex-guerrillas held a fashion show in Bogota this week, with colorful outfits and overt messages of peace pressed into service in the battle for Colombian hearts and minds, as the peace deal frays at the edges.

“This fashion parade is aimed at showing the clothes we make, and to demonstrate to Colombia our commitment to peace,” said former rebel Gonzalo Beltran, who has swapped his automatic rifle for a needle and thread.

The peace deal between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the government of then-president Juan Manuel Santos has come under increasing strain since the election of Santos’s conservative successor Ivan Duque.

Duque was elected last year on promises to renegotiate the peace accord on the grounds that it was too lenient toward ex-fighters guilty of serious crimes.

And last month, the man who negotiated and signed the deal on behalf of FARC, Ivan Marquez, announced he and dozens of followers were returning to arms.

The FARC hardliners accuse the government of betraying the accord and failing to deliver rural reform.

– ‘We’re complying’ –

Entitled “Pazarela” — a play on the Spanish word for peace, “paz”, and catwalk, “pasarela” — Wednesday night’s fashion parade took place to the beat of electronic music.

A dozen models — students and former combatants — strutted in front of 200 spectators to show off the first fashion collection designed in one of the country’s 26 rebel reintegration zones.

“We’re complying” was scrawled on a banner carried by a young woman dressed in a yellow kimono. Other signs drove home the message: “Everyone for Peace”, “Nothing for War” and “Fashion is a political act”.

Designer Angela Maria Herrera worked with around 30 former fighters from Colombia’s mountainous Icononzo area.

“Our clothes carry messages of peace. Some were made by ex-combatants, but tailored by victims of violence, so the message of reconciliation is intrinsic.”

Former guerrilla Melina Reyes presented a flowered dress, carrying a sign calling on the government to fulfill its promises under the deal.

“These are the clothes we are making, men and women who are betting on peace, that left their rifles behind, who said ‘no’ to the war, and want to continue like this,” she said.

– Jungle fashion –

The private Andean University of Bogota hosted the fashion event to mark the International Day of Peace on September 21.

Event organizer Leonardo Gonzalez said it underlined the young people around him “do not want to return to war.”

The United Nations says although a “vast majority” of about 13,000 former FARC combatants and their civilian collaborators remain committed to peace, the return to arms of some factions — and the thousands who never disarmed at all — is undermining efforts to overcome more than half a century of conflict.

Reyes wants to turn the page and says fashion provides her with an opportunity to put into practice a talent acquired in the jungle.

“We altered the clothes we were given because they were standard sizes, too big for some of us, and too tight for others,” another woman said.

“We were stylists, the tailors of the guerrilla movement.”

Ex-Albanian interior minister acquitted of drug charges

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An Albanian court has acquitted former interior minister Saimir Tahiri on drug trafficking charges but sentenced him to three years of probation for abuse of power.

Prosecutors had requested 12 years for the former ally of Prime Minister Edi Rama during a high-profile trial in a country under pressure from the EU to tackle corruption and drug trafficking.

Tahiri, who was forced to step down in 2017, will not be allowed to hold public office during the three-year period, the court ruled late Thursday.

The 40-year-old said he would appeal but welcomed the court clearance “that I am not a criminal, a trafficker or a member of a criminal organisation.”

The court did not elaborate on why he was convicted for abuse of power.

In late 2017, Tahiri became a suspect in a cannabis smuggling case after his name appeared in wiretaps of a drug trafficker and distant cousin in Italy.

The opposition alleged criminal links in Rama’s administration, while Rama defended his former minister as a victim of slander.

Albania has long been a major producer of cannabis, much of it bound for Italy, though authorities say they have severely cracked down on the industry recently.

The current Interior Minister, Sander Lleshaj, said in June that Albania had “left the map of cannabis-producing countries”.

But the poor Balkan state remains a key transit point for heroin and cocaine destined for European markets.

On Thursday, Albanian police asked Germany to extradite an Albanian businessman, Arber Cekaj, suspected of cocaine trafficking.

Authorities have seized a container carrying 613 kilos (1351 pounds) of Colombian cocaine in February in a cargo of bananas belonging to Cekaj’s company.

Frontrunners in third US Democratic debate spar over healthcare, yet stress importance of unity

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Former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders – the frontrunners for the 2020 Democratic nomination – clashed over the best way to expand healthcare coverage for Americans during Thursday’s debate.

The divide among the candidates over the proposal known as Medicare for All, which would cover every American under a government health plan and essentially eliminate private insurance, was again laid bare in the opening moments of the Democratic Party’s third presidential debate in Houston.

But after some sharp exchanges, several of the White House contenders warned that too much acrimony would distract them from the ultimate goal: defeating Republican President Donald Trump next year.

Here are some early highlights from the debate:

‘The damn bill’

The first question of the night went to Biden, asking him whether liberals like Warren and Sanders had gone too far left for mainstream Democrats.

Biden quickly pivoted to healthcare, challenging Sanders of Vermont and Warren of Massachusetts to explain how they plan to pay for what some analysts expect would be a $30 trillion Medicare for All plan.

“Thus far, my distinguished friend, the senator on my left, has not said how she’s going to pay for it,” said Biden, referring to Warren.

Both Warren and Sanders were careful to avoid saying explicitly that middle-class families would see higher taxes, instead emphasizing that they would save money overall by eliminating medical costs.

“Those at the very top, the richest and corporations, are going to pay more,” Warren said. “Middle-class families are going to pay less.”

Sanders acknowledged the cost of his signature plan – but said studies show the status quo will cost Americans $50 trillion over the same time period.

“I wrote the damn bill, if I may say so,” he said, repeating his main applause line from the second debate in July.

Biden emphasised again that his plan would allow people who like their private insurance to keep it, a key point of distinction from Sanders’ and Warren’s approach.

“Let’s be clear – I’ve actually never met anybody who likes their health insurance company,” Warren replied. “I’ve met people who like their doctors.”

When Sanders noted Americans spend far more per capita on healthcare than Canadians, Biden interrupted, saying, “This is America.”

“Americans don’t want to pay twice as much as other countries,” Sanders shot back.

Medicare for all: A bold idea or a bad idea?

Other candidates seeking to make their mark on the stage also took aim at Sanders’ Medicare for All plan.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who has run as a moderate, said Sanders’ proposal would force millions of people off their insurance plans.

“While he wrote the bill, I read the bill,” she said. “I don’t think that’s a bold idea, I think that’s a bad idea.”

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg sought to contrast his proposal to offer a government plan as an alternative, which he describes as “Medicare for all who want it,” with Sanders’ more sweeping reform.

“The problem is that it doesn’t trust the American people,” he said of the senator’s plan. “I trust you to choose what makes the most sense for you.”

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, who has released her own Medicare for All plan, redirected the conversation toward Trump, noting that the current administration has sought to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, in federal court.

“I think this discussion has given the American people a headache,” she said. “What they want to know is that they’re going to have healthcare and the cost.”

‘A house divided’

Although the candidates had a heated discussion about healthcare in the first 40 minutes of the debate, several stressed the importance of standing together as Democrats, saying fighting one another would play into Trump’s hands.

Moments after former U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro, 44, of Texas accused Biden, 76, of forgetting what he had just said two minutes ago – a comment seemingly aimed at Biden’s age that many in the audience jeered – Buttigieg called for civility.

“This is why presidential debates are becoming unwatchable,” Buttigieg said. “This reminds everybody of what they cannot stand about Washington. Scoring points against each other, poking at each other.”

Castro was unbowed. “That’s called a Democratic primary election. That’s called an election. This is what we’re here for, it’s an election.”

“Yeah, but a house divided cannot stand,” said Klobuchar, quoting former President Abraham Lincoln.

That sentiment was echoed by U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who said while they had differences on how to pay for and deliver healthcare, every person on stage believed in universal care.

“We cannot sacrifice progress on the altar of purity,” he said.

Death toll from Spain floods rises to three

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The death toll from torrential rains and floods in southeastern Spain rose to three on Friday after a man drowned when his car became trapped in a tunnel, local authorities said.

The latest tragedy occurred in the city of Almeria when the tunnel was “flooded by a huge amount of water in a few minutes,” Almeria city hall said in a tweet.

A policeman managed to rescue two of the three people in the vehicle, but “one occupant remained inside the car”, Almeria mayor Ramon Fernandez-Pacheco told news radio Cadena Ser.

Almeria airport was closed on Friday due to flooding caused by the heavy rain “which was making it difficult for passengers and workers to reach it”, a spokeswoman for Spanish airports operator AENA said.

Just under one million passengers passed through the facility last year.

A 61-year-old man and his 51-year-old sister died on Thursday when their vehicle was swept away as fast-moving waters swamped a road in Caudete, a municipality around 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of the port city of Valencia, the emergency services said.

Elsewhere the rain caused chaos on the roads, cutting public transport and prompting rivers to burst their banks, flooding homes and forcing the evacuation of surrounding areas, officials said.

Footage shared by the local AVAMET weather service showed cars being swept away in fast-flowing water in Moixent, and torrents of water engulfing the nearby town of Ontinyent, which borders the Clariano river and saw its heaviest rainfall since records began in 1917, the agency said.

Schools across the region suspended classes on Friday for the second day, as the heavy rains are set to continue.

Mugabe’s family agree to burial in ‘heroes’ monument

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The family of former Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe have agreed to bury him at a monument for national heroes in Harare, a family spokesman said on Friday though the date for the ceremony was still unclear.

Mugabe died in Singapore last week aged 95, leaving Zimbabweans torn over the legacy of a leader once lauded as an anti-colonial guerrilla hero, but whose 37-year iron-fisted rule ended in a coup in 2017.

His family and President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe ally who turned against him, had been at odds over where he would be buried after his body returned home on Wednesday.

“Yes I can confirm,” Leo Mugabe told reporters when asked whether the family had agreed to a burial in National Heroes Acre in Harare.

He said the traditional chiefs in Mugabe’s homestead had made that decision.

“They have now pronounced their position so if they have pronounced that the burial will be at the Heroes Acre that means that we now have to wait for the details… whether it will be a private burial or a public one.”

Tensions erupted after Mnangagwa’s government proposed a burial at the National Heroes Acre in Harare while the family said he would be buried at a private ceremony, possibly in his homestead of Kutama, northwest of the capital.

The former leader had been travelling to Singapore regularly for medical treatment but allies say his health deteriorated rapidly after his ouster. Mugabe’s body arrived from Singapore on Wednesday at Harare airport.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, Cuban former leader Raul Castro and a dozen African presidents, including South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, are among those expected to attend Mugabe’s state funeral on Saturday in Harare.

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s resistance hero-turned-autocrat, dies aged 95

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“It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabwe,” said Mnangagwa in a Twitter post, referring to the veteran Zimbabwean politician by “comrade” – in tribute to Mugabe’s days in the nationalist resistance.

Mnangagwa described his predecessor as “an icon of liberation, a pan-Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation and empowerment of his people,” adding, “His contribution to the history of our nation and continent will never be forgotten. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”

 

Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe either as prime minister or president since 1980 when he was first elected into power on a wave of euphoria and hope after leading his liberation army to victory against the country’s white minority rulers.

 

At the time, he was heralded as a revolutionary hero throughout Africa in an era when Zimbabwe’s neighbour South Africa was still living under the divisive apartheid system.

But the optimism that marked those early years was soon forgotten as the revolutionary leader turned tyrant, killing opposition supporters in their hundreds and eventually leading his country to the brink of ruin.

 

Mugabe’s lasting legacy was epitomised by British author Andrew Norman in his book, Robert Mugabe and the Betrayal of Zimbabwe.

“Instead of leading his people to the promised land, Mugabe on the one hand amassed a fortune for himself, his family and his followers and on the other hand presided over the deliberate murder, torture and starvation of those who opposed him. In short Mugabe betrayed his people,” Norman wrote.

From teacher to revolutionary leader

Mugabe was born in 1924 and raised by his devout Catholic mother Bona after his father abandoned his family.

His father gone, Mugabe showed his willingness to take responsibility when he took financial control over his five siblings as well as three other children his father had had with a different woman.

He studied at Jesuit schools where he was a keen student who became known for being a solitary figure. “His only friends were his books,” his brother Donato was once quoted as saying.

He qualified as a teacher and spent time working in schools in Ghana and Zambia before returning to the country of his birth in 1960 when he joined the National Democratic Party (NDP).

He married his first wife Ghanaian Sally Hayfron in 1961. Her death in 1992 from cancer was a big blow to Mugabe and some say deprived him of a moderating influence. His second wife Grace, is 40 years his junior.

In 1963, Mugabe left the NDP to join rival Marxist party ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union), which later became  ZANU–PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front). After violence erupted between the NDP and ZANU, Mugabe was imprisoned. Behind bars he continued to study, gaining two further degrees and his reputation continued to grow.

In 1975, a year after his release from prison, Mugabe took control of the ZANU party and continued waging a guerilla war from bases in Mozambique – against the white majority government, headed by Prime Minister Ian Smith.

A ceasefire agreement was reached in 1979 and elections were held a year later with Mugabe triumphantly voted in as prime minister. A new independent state was declared with the country’s name changing from Southern Rhodesia to Zimbabwe.

From that moment on Mugabe held a grip on power for the next 37 years and time and again proved he was willing to go to any length to maintain his control. Between 1982 and 1985, thousands of dissidents were killed as Mugabe ruthlessly crushed the armed resistance against his leadership. His troops were accused of committing horrendous atrocities.

“Violence breeds violence”, Andrew Meldrum, a former Observer newspaper correspondent in Zimbabwe, told FRANCE 24. “Mugabe had to use violence against the white regime of Rhodesia and from the very beginning he showed he was willing to use it to maintain his position in power. Violence corrupts, just like power does.”

Zimbabwe in ruin

After seizing political power, Mugabe soon focused his attention on taking control of the country’s economy from the white minority.

In 2000, after an electoral defeat in a referendum, he implemented a controversial land reform program targeting large commercial white owned farms, which accounted for around 80 percent of the land in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe had promised to redistribute the land among poor blacks but instead farms were handed over to his cronies who simply helped to cement his stranglehold on power.

As the farms were seized – many of them violently and illegally, the country’s agricultural based economy collapsed. The scheme was, according to Meldrum, Mugabe’s greatest blunder.

“He marred his own legacy. For 20 years, he established something that was a model and then took it apart in order to maintain his position and that of his party,” said Meldrum, who now writes for the US-based Global Post website.

As the crisis deepened, Zimbabwe recorded the world’s highest level of inflation in 2007 at one point hitting 11 million percent. The country was hit by nationwide food shortages and unemployment rose to 80 percent.

In 2009, a report released by the charity Save the Children found that 10 million out of the country’s population of 13 million were living in poverty and according to the UN, 1.5 million Zimbabweans were in need of food aid in 2011.

One of the few achievements Mugabe did manage during his reign was in education. In 2011, Zimbabwe had the highest literacy rate in Africa with 90 percent of the population able to read.

Blame game

But for Mugabe, who was awarded an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994, the blame for the country’s disastrous state lay elsewhere.

Speaking at a UN summit in New York in 2010, Mugabe slammed the “illegal and debilitating” sanctions imposed on the country by the US and the European Union.

“As a result of these punitive measures the government of Zimbabwe has been prevented from making a positive difference to the lives of the poor, the hungry, the sick and the destitute,” Mugabe said.

Zimbabwe’s climate and environment were also at fault for the crisis, he said and when a cholera epidemic broke out Mugabe pointed the finger at the country’s “former colonial masters” for bringing the disease to the country.

Power hungry

The embattled leader proved to be a wily and an astute operator. Time and again he would “run rings round other political figures” Meldrum said.

In most other countries such a catastrophe would have forced the leader out of power but Mugabe clung on. Each time an election came around, he spread fear among opposition groups through intimidation, torture and murder.

The fiercely disputed elections of 2008 against Morgan Tsvangirai provided proof to many in Zimbabwe and beyond that Mugabe would never relinquish power.

Shortly after voting in the first ballot Mugabe said “If you lose an election and are rejected by the people, its time to leave politics.”

But days later as he headed into a run-off vote against Tsvangirai, Mugabe had a change of heart and swore that “only God” could remove him from office. Tsvangirai eventually withdrew citing intimidation and violence.

Split personality

But even Tsvangirai, who was eventually appointed as Prime Minister to appease the opposition, admitted judging Mugabe was not a simple task.

Speaking in 2010 he said: “You must understand this man has got a split personality – from being a hero to being the villain the international community would like to define him as.”

“I cannot defend what he did over the last ten years in terms of violence but there is also a positive contribution to our country that he made. He was a national liberation leader.”

But others have been less sympathetic. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was reported as saying Mugabe became the typical African dictator and something of a “cartoon figure”.

Mugabe’s political end also followed the script of an African despot, when he was ousted from power in November 2017.

On November 6, 2017, Mugabe made a choice that would seal his political downfall when he sacked his vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. The former vice-president, who had also served as Zimbabwe’s defence minister, seized on the momentum built on Harare’s streets, where protests against the economic situation had broken out.

The army ousted a by now ailing Mugabe, with Mnangagwa taking over as the country’s president.

Mugabe was put under house arrest, but the wily resistance hero refused to go without a fight. In a March 2018 televised interview, Mugabe insisted he was still Zimbabwe’s president and that the previous year’s “coup d’etat” was “illegal”.

But by then, it was already too late for the ageing Zimbabwean politician. The untouchable aura he projected had been pierced and his long-suffering people had moved on.

For many people with ties to Zimbabwe, memories of Mugabe battling for the freedom of his nation and the right for blacks to vote have been long forgotten after years of repression.

“His legacy is horrific”, Rose Benton who runs the opposition group Zimbabwe Vigil in London told FRANCE 24. “The violence and human rights abuses have been horrendous.”

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