Mugabe denies thousands homeless after cleanup
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Reports of thousands of Zimbabweans still homeless after a controversial government clean-up program are "nonsense," Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said in an ABC News interview shown late on Wednesday.
"That's nonsense... anyone who wants facts should come and see what's happening. We removed them from slums and put them in new places," Mugabe said.
"Obviously when you destroy slums, even as you prepare new places for them, there is a dislocation, disorganization of the family for that moment," Mugabe told ABC.
It was unclear when the interview took place. ABC said it met with Mugabe when he was in New York for a U.N. General Assembly meeting.
A U.N. statement issued on Tuesday said the United Nations was getting reports that tens of thousands of people were still homeless and in need of aid since Zimbabwe's eviction campaign began in May 2005.
Mugabe's government has refused aid from the world body because of the U.N.'s description of the demolition program as a humanitarian crisis, and over calls for the prosecution of those who led the campaign.
"Thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands. You go there now and see whether those thousands are there... Where are they? A figment of their imagination. They exaggerated," Mugabe said.
Zimbabwe does not welcome outside scrutiny by foreign media. The government has arrested, deported or denied entry to dozens of journalists under media laws forbidding foreigners from working permanently as journalists in Zimbabwe. Visiting journalists require a temporary license from a state commission to work.
Mugabe's government says the rules were necessary to restore professionalism in the private media, which it accuses of driving a Western propaganda campaign against Harare over its seizure of white-owned farms for blacks.
Mugabe, 81 and in power for 25 years, is accused by his critics of wrecking the southern African state by rigging major elections in the last five years and pursuing controversial policies which have left him branded a dictator.
In the interview, he denied charges that the demolition program targeted supporters of his political opponents.
"That's nonsense. That's the message of the opposition, of course they would say that," Mugabe said, calling it a move to cleanup slums. "We are doing this in every constituency, in every province. It's happening everywhere."
Mugabe also told ABC that he would remain in charge of the country, after he leaves office.
"I'll still be in the party," he said. "The party is greater than government, by the way, and my being president of the party is similar to my being president of the country."