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'Deathbed' Mugabe To Make Speech At Rally
Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans will crowd into Harare's national sports stadium later for the chance to see their president, Robert Mugabe, who was being written off as virtually dead just a few days ago.
The country's Independence Day celebrations are the first public opportunity to see the leader since the rumours about his demise circulated around the world.
The reports reached fever pitch last week while the president was visiting Singapore - officially to make arrangements for his daughter's university studies.
But several online publications including the Zimbabwe Mail instead reported Mugabe was on his "deathbed" and "receiving intensive treatment".
Some even wrote his family had been flown to his hospital bedside.
When the president delayed his return, missing an important Cabinet meeting, the rumours spiralled further.
Despite the repeated assurances from his government that the reports were "hogwash", they were only quietened when the president was seen alighting from his plane on his return to Zimbabwe last Thursday looking very much alive.
Today will be the first chance for the masses to see their president for themselves.
He is expected to deliver a lengthy speech and will no doubt use the opportunity to consolidate his power in front of the crowds.
Last year, on the same occasion, he defended Libya's Colonel Gaddafi and criticised Britain for invading "sovereign states".
Mugabe's Zanu-PF Party has been the dominant partner in a fractious unity government with the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), since the 2008 elections.
The MDC was largely seen as the overwhelming victors then but the rash of violence, beatings and rapes which marred the election led to the MDC agreeing to a power-sharing deal with their leader Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister.
Fresh presidential elections are due in 2013 but Mugabe's party is anxious to have them earlier because of worries about the health of the 88 year old.
But the MDC is insisting no elections can go ahead until there are full democratic reforms including a fresh look at the constitution.
Despite the power-sharing, the MDC appears to have little real say in the running of the country, where unemployment is estimated to be around 90% among those of working age.
President Mugabe says if he wins again he intends to press ahead with what has been called the "black empowerment" programme, which will force all foreign-owned companies to hand over 51% of their firms to local black people.