(Last Updated on August 24, 2013 by Editor)
Robert Mugabe has been sworn in for a seventh term in office as Zimbabwe’s leader.
Thursday was declared a public holiday to allow supporters of the 89-year-old to attend the inauguration.
The ceremony had been delayed by a court petition filed by his main rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, over allegations of widespread electoral fraud.
But the Constitutional Court dismissed the case, declaring Mr Mugabe’s re-election “free, fair and credible”.
Mr Mugabe won with 61% of the presidential vote against 34% for Mr Tsvangirai on 31 July.
Robert Mugabe’s inauguration was witnessed by thousands of jubilant supporters and invited guests in Zimbabwe’s biggest sports stadium on the outskirts of Harare, amid tight security. Many former heads of state and deputy presidents attended the event, but tellingly very few of the continent’s current leaders.
This is perhaps a tacit acknowledgement of the concerns which have been raised around Zimbabwe’s disputed election, in which Mr Mugabe emerged victorious with more than 60% of the ballot.
There were loud cheers from the veteran leader’s supporters when he read out his oath. In his inaugural speech, Mr Mugabe attacked Western nations for refusing to accept the election results and took a swipe at his main rival, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, describing him as a “sore loser”. He also made time to speak out against homosexuality, saying it was a filthy disease that destroys nations.
Zanu-PF is now firmly in control and the party has vowed to press ahead with its economic empowerment policy, which seeks to take over foreign-owned businesses. Zimbabwe will be closely watched in the weeks and months to come.
The elections ended a fragile power-sharing government formed by the two men in 2009 under pressure from regional leaders following elections the year before marred by violence and allegations of electoral fraud.
Outgoing prime minister and opposition leader Mr Tsvangirai said he would not be attending the inauguration ceremony.
“Expecting Tsvangirai to attend the inauguration is like expecting a victim of robbery to attend a party hosted by the robber,” his spokesman, Luke Tamborinyoka, told AFP.
The BBC’s Brian Hungwe in the capital, Harare, says there was an air of excitement at the national sports stadium for inauguration ceremony, with free fizzy drinks and T-shirts reading “Mugabe fearless revolutionary” being given to the crowds.
One of the banners in the stadium read: “It’s Africa versus Europe with Zimbabwe as the new battlefront.”
There were loud cheers from the thousands of his supporters when he read out his oath, pledging to “observe, defend and uphold the constitution of Zimbabwe”.
In his inaugural speech, Mr Mugabe attacked Western nations for refusing to accept the election – the UK and US have expressed concerns about the vote, and the US has refused to remove targeted sanctions against certain individuals and companies until further political reforms are made.
“These Western countries hold a different negative view of the electoral process. Well, there’s nothing we can do about their moral turpitude,” the Associated Press news agency quoted Mr Mugabe as saying.
“We are not curtsying or bowing to any foreign government, however powerful it is or whatever filthy lucre it flaunts.
“We abide by the judgment of Africa. America dares raise a censorious voice to contradict Africa’s verdict. Who gave them the gift of seeing better than all of us?” Mr Mugabe said.
The African Union has said that any irregularities were not enough to overturn the margin of victory.
“I have grave concerns over the conduct of the election, and the flaws highlighted in the South African Development Community (Sadc) and African Union observation missions’ initial assessments,” UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement on Thursday ahead of the inauguration.
“There is strong evidence that these elections fell short of Sadc’s own guidelines and the Zimbabwean electoral law. As such, we are concerned about the potential implications for the region.”
It was critical that reforms advanced under the power-sharing government were not lost, he added.
In his speech, Mr Mugabe promised to continue with controversial economic reforms which will force all companies to cede economic control to black Zimbabweans.
“The mining sector will be the centrepiece of our economic recovery and growth. It should generate growth spurts across sector, reignite that economic miracle which must now happen,” the AFP news agency quoted him as saying.
Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) lost two court cases related to fraud claims in last month’s disputed elections. Rulings were issued despite the MDC withdrawing its case saying it would not get a fair hearing.
The party alleged that more than a million voters were prevented from casting their ballots in polling stations, mostly in the capital and urban areas considered to be MDC strongholds.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, which placed 7,000 observers around the country, has also judged the election flawed.
MDC officials have indicated they are unwilling to continue their partnership government with Zanu-PF.
Mr Mugabe will serve another five-year term. Under the new constitution approved in a referendum earlier this year, he will be able to serve another term after this.
The 89-year-old politician served as Zimbabwe’s first post-independence prime minister between 1980 and 1987, and has held office as president ever since.