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ZIMBABWE ANNIVERSARY

HARARE, Zimbabwe — President Robert Mugabe pledged Sunday to move ahead with plans to hand over 51 percent control of businesses to blacks under a controversial program.

During ceremonies Sunday marking the 30th anniversary of independence from colonial rule, Mugabe said the proposed business take overs are a concrete example of policies followed over the last three decades that enable locals to own the nation’s resources.

RELATED: GOOD NEWS: Zimbabwe Records Decline In HIV Infections

The so-called indigenization and empowerment act was passed in 2008, when parliament was still dominated by Mugabe’s lawmakers. The law came into force on March 1 and all businesses were given to April 15 to hand in proposals as to how they’d hand over 51 percent of their company to blacks. This included foreign and white-owned businesses.

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The party of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader who was also present at the ceremonies Sunday, has opposed the program and said Wednesday the law had been shelved to avoid deterring much-needed foreign investment in the ailing economy.

Tsvangirai’s party on Wednesday said a meeting of the coalition cabinet chaired by Mugabe suspended the act, which defined “indigenous” Zimbabweans as those who suffered under colonial-era racial discrimination and their children born after independence in 1980, effectively excluding the nation’s 20,000 whites.

Saviour Kasukwere, a minister from Mugabe’s party in charge of empowerment policy, countered this and said Wednesday the law will go ahead, but it had only been delayed for more discussions.

The new so-called indigenization law “recognizes our sovereign right of ownership,” Mugabe told crowds at the 50,000 seat Chinese-built sports stadium in Harare.

Mugabe said the nation, governed by a yearlong coalition between his ZANU-PF party and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, faced continuing criticism from what he called “unrepentant and incorrigible racist forces.”

He said the coalition was proceeding with national reconstruction despite outside opposition from Western countries.

RELATED: Zimbabwe Blocks Visit By United Nations Torture Investigator

Seizures of white-owned farms and “now the indigenization program serve as concrete and living examples of empowerment … designed chiefly to redress the historic imbalances in ownership of the economy,” Mugabe said.

Mugabe on Sunday did not elaborate on any fresh deadlines under the law.

Coalition leaders watched military displays at the stadium which was reopened this month after being shut down for three years for structural repairs by Chinese engineers. Crowds cheered and whistled for Tsvangirai when Mugabe formally welcomed him to the celebrations.

Mugabe, 86, acknowledged a need for national healing Sunday “following a period of polarization and hostilities between our people.”

Years of political violence, much of it blamed on Mugabe militants and state agents, and economic turmoil came with the often violent seizures of white-owned farms that Mugabe ordered in 2000, disrupting the agriculture-based economy in the former regional breadbasket and leading to acute food shortages and world record inflation.

Human rights groups say at least 600 people, mostly Tsvangirai supporters, died in the past decade and tens of thousands of cases of torture, illegal arrests and other rights violations were reported.

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