The Zimbabwe government has denied reports that President Robert Mugabe is preparing an exit plan for himself, saying the reports are "at best wishful".
This follows news reports that Mugabe, who has been president since 1980, hinted at retirement during an independence day interview earlier this month. He was quoted as saying: "We are getting to a stage where we shall say fine, we settled this matter [land redistribution] and people can retire."
It was the second time this year that reports to this effect have surfaced. In January it was reported that army chief Vitalis Zvinavashe and speaker of parliament Emmerson Mnangagwa had contacted the opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai through a third party, over a retirement plan for Mugabe. The deal included immunity from prosecution for Mugabe for alleged human rights offences, and the MDC dropping its court challenge to the 2002 presidential elections - both of which the MDC said they would reject.
The latest reports include the news that South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki was told Mugabe had called for a constitutional amendment, allowing an interim president to be appointed by the ruling ZANU-PF, to pave the way for fresh elections. Under the current constitution, if Mugabe steps down, a new election must be held within 90 days.
A statement from the Department of Information and Publicity attributed the latest reports to "British-linked newsmen and newspapers in defence of white interests in Zimbabwe and the Southern African region".
"For all the self-serving, biased coverage, the people of Zimbabwe have not expressed a wish to withdraw the mandate they gave to the present government. Nor have they indicated a wish to transit to another dispensation, whether constitutional or political, shaped and defined by processes which exclude them, and are largely called by foreign interests.
"On the same score, President Mugabe has not indicated a wish to leave office now, or at any other time before the expiry of his term (in 2008). All the president did in the recent interview marking the twenty-third anniversary of independence, was to invite national debate on a range of national questions, including that of succession," the statement continued.
"But sadly, so far, there has been no debate or debaters, serve for flippant speculations and crazy scenario-building."
It said reports on a transitional government, transitional arrangements, an exit plan or exile were "at best wishful, and at worst an undemocratic insult to the people of Zimbabwe". Since the commencement of the land reform programme, Zimbabwe's sovereignty had been under attack through sanctions or interference in its internal affairs, the government believed.
Both the US and the European Union have instituted "smart sanctions" against the country's cabinet and high ranking ZANU-PF officials, and the country has been suspended from the Commonwealth.
The statement said that Mbeki, Malawi's President Bakili Muluzi and Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasango had expressed an interest in visiting Zimbabwe to "update themselves on our situation in the context of their protracted mediation efforts between Zimbabwe and Britain".
Zimbabweans currently face rising inflation, food shortages, high fuel prices and increased anti-government protests and stay-aways. Last week thousands of people stayed away from work to protest a steep fuel price increase.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions