HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's president of more than 30 years warned Monday that "mad people in the West" are campaigning for regime change, pointing to the ongoing civil war in Libya where rebels backed by NATO forces are trying to oust that country's longtime leader.
President Robert Mugabe also reiterated his call for early elections to end the country's fractious coalition government and called some of his opponents "demon-possessed sellouts" who turn to the West for help.
"Today is the day to cast out those demons," said Mugabe, who gave a fiery address during celebrations honoring the guerrilla war that swept him to power at independence in 1980.
He urged Zimbabweans to be vigilant against those campaigning for regime change in Zimbabwe and called NATO "a terrorist organization," no different from the Taliban and al-Qaida.
"Look what they are doing in Libya," he said. "The brazen way they seek to kill Gadhafi ... they are deliberately throwing bombs at his family residences. Beware, this they can do in any other African country."
Mugabe also on Monday vowed to retaliate against Western countries that imposed sanctions targeting Mugabe and his supporters over alleged human rights abuses in the southern African nation.
"We haven't touched them," said Mugabe of the more than 400 British companies operating in Zimbabwe. "Tomorrow we are not going to treat them in any favorable way.
"They are not heeding our cry," he said. "Why should a company that belongs to Britain continue to mine gold here? If they want to continue to mine here, sanctions must go."
He also said the nation welcomed investment from countries that have stood by Zimbabwe, including China, Russia, India and Cuba.
The aging president has long been accused of stifling free expression and using his security forces to control and punish those who oppose him.
On Monday, Mugabe said elections were needed because the coalition government — which includes former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai — was "a creature not meant to live ... We should not take undue advantage of it and stretch it to the limit."
Mugabe's loyalists have said Tsvangirai, now the prime minister, is a security threat because of his pro-Western links.
One general in the military command has spoken out against Tsvangirai and vowed the military will not recognize him as the country's leader if he defeats Mugabe in elections.
Tsvangirai did not attend Monday's event. He has distanced himself from state occasions he says are used as a platform for Mugabe's party.
Rights groups blame police and troops for much of the state-orchestrated violence surrounding election campaigning since Tsvangirai founded his Movement for Democratic Change a decade ago as the first major challenge to Mugabe's party.
This year alone, police have arrested numerous opposition supporters and ministers over what critics say are trumped-up charges of a political nature. Rights groups say political violence has spiked in the run-up to elections. A date has not yet been set for the poll.
In February, police arrested 39 people who attended a lecture and watched television footage of uprisings in North Africa. Police said they were preparing for an anti-government revolt; the group said it was only an academic lecture and denied wrongdoing. Six still face charges of inciting violence.