Longtime ruler President Robert Mugabe vowed Friday to defeat "sell outs, political prostitutes, political charlatans and two-headed political creatures" in national polls next month, but also acknowledged divisions in his ruling party.
Mugabe faces former ruling party loyalist Simba Makoni, whom he recently likened to a prostitute seeking clients, and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the March 29 presidential vote. Parliamentary and local council races also were scheduled that day.
At his campaign launch at the main conference center in Harare, Mugabe, 84, told some 4,000 supporters, including other party candidates, that opponents in Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change received support from Britain, the former colonial ruler, and other "enemies" in the West seeking regime change in Zimbabwe.
Makoni, 57, has called for reform in the ruling party and, entering the presidential race as an independent after his expulsion from the party, said the nation needed younger leaders to tackle the worst economic crisis since Mugabe led the nation to independence in 1980.
Mugabe said Friday divisions in the ZANU-PF party during its internal primary polls to select candidates for the election were resolved.
"The struggles within the party that have taken place, and in some cases little wars, have been settled. At the end of the day, we have this congregation with me at the head," he told supporters. "This is the official start of our march to another electoral victory."
But he added, gazing across the conference center auditorium: "You who are here with us, I hope I trust you, all of you. Some politicians are sell outs, political prostitutes, political charlatans and two-headed political creatures."
All the main speakers at the unveiling of the ruling party's election manifesto called for unity.
"There is evidence of hunger for power within our ranks. We have opportunists and saboteurs who have come into the fold. We must ensure he wins and we must ensure he wins resoundingly," said ZANU-PF chairman John Nkomo.
On Friday in neighboring Zambia, Zambian Foreign Minister Kabinge Pande said following recent changes to Zimbabwe's constitution, and the Mugabe government's acceptance of regional election guidelines, regional leaders "strongly feel this (election) will be free and fair."
That was in sharp contrast to concerns expressed by a wide variety of organizations and individuals within and outside Zimbabwe about the March 29 vote. In an open letter released earlier this week by the U.S. Embassy, Ambassador James McGee cited violence, inadequate preparation, voter confusion and evidence of registration irregularities.
Zambian President Levy Mwananwasa questioned last week whether Western countries would accept the results of the election as free and fair unless Mugabe lost.
African leaders have been criticized by Western commentators and some within the region for not doing enough to confront Mugabe over his country's political and economic turmoil. Many trace Zimbabwe's crisis to the often violent, government-ordered seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms since 2000. Mugabe, though, argues his country is the victim of a Western conspiracy.
Associated Press writer Joseph J. Schatz in Lusaka, Zambia contributed to this story