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By Cris Chinaka

Written by: Staff

HARARE, June 29 (Reuters) President Robert Mugabe today rejected international mediation in Zimbabwe's political crisis, saying the southern African state was not on the verge of collapse although its economy was in trouble.

Critics accuse Mugabe of running down one of Africa's most promising countries, abusing human rights and hanging onto power by rigging votes in the face of a deepening economic crisis.

Speaking at the funeral of one of his ministers, Mugabe under pressure from domestic and Western critics to accept UN mediation in a crisis largely blamed on his government said Zimbabweans were ready to die fighting for their political rights and would never accept subjugation.

Mugabe, 82 and Zimbabwe's sole ruler since independence in 1980, accused former colonial power Britain and the United States of mobilising ''illegal'' Western economic sanctions against his government over its seizures of white-owned commercial farms for landless blacks.

Zimbabwe is struggling with the world's highest inflation rate of nearly 1,200 per cent and the World Bank says the country has the fastest shrinking economy outside a war zone.

Mugabe's critics want him to accept mediation to facilitate talks with the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, to write a new national constitution and to organise elections supervised by international observers.

In an apparent reply to suggestions that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan must step in to help, the combative Zimbabwean leader said today there was no political crisis in the country requiring foreign mediation.

''Lately, we have heard about so-called 'initiatives' to rescue Zimbabwe. We don't need rescuing because we are not about to die,'' he said.

''We may be suffering, yes, but we will never die. What we need is support for the economy,'' he said at the funeral of information minister Tichaona Jokonya who died last Saturday and was buried in Harare at a shrine reserved mostly for heroes' of Zimbabwe's liberation struggle.

Without pointing at anyone by name, but in a statement apparently aimed at Britain and South Africa which have both said Annan could play some role in finding a solution to the Zimbabwe crisis, Mugabe said today.

''We tell the world from this sacred (National Heroes') Acre that Zimbabwe is not about to die, in fact it will never die.'' ''What Zimbabwe needs is a just and lawful treatment by the Western world, a recognition that it is a full, sovereign country which has the right to own and control its resources, the right to chart its own destiny unhindered,'' he said.

Both Annan and Mugabe are expected to attend an African Union summit in Gambia this weekend, and South African officials say this could provide a forum for launching discussions with the Zimbabwean leader.


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