Robert Mugabe begins speaking tour across Zimbabwe aged 93

Longstanding president, who has appeared frail and slurred his words in public recently, is seeking re-election next year

Robert Mugabe smiles at a youth rally wearing a Zanu-PF jacket in Marondera, eastern Zimbabwe. Photograph: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Robert Mugabe has launched a 10-venue speaking tour across Zimbabwe aimed at drumming up support ahead of elections next year when he plans to seek office again.

The 93-year-old president, who appeared in better health than at other recent public appearances, spoke for an hour-and-a-half on Friday at a rally outside Harare attended by several thousand Zanu-PF supporters.

The ruling party is seen as divided over Mugabe’s successor, while opposition groups are in talks to unite to try to oust him in the election.

Mugabe told the rally in Marondera: “We want our party to remain united and not divided. If you are a real Zanu-PF member, be true to your party.”

He urged those seeking to succeed him to “be at peace”, saying: “The time will come. It’s certainly coming.”

Zanu-PF officials said Mugabe is focusing on youth issues at the “interface rallies” in each of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces and cities.

Mugabe’s speech has been slurred in interviews this year and he has struggled to walk in public, but he stood up throughout the long speech.

He wore a jacket in the party colours and arrived at the open-air venue standing on the back of a police truck, waving at cheering supporters.

Kelvin Mutsvairo, a provincial youth party leader, said in his speech: “President Robert Mugabe is our sole candidate for 2018. We declare you our life president.”

A banner at the rally called Mugabe “the father of youth empowerment” and urged young people to register to vote in the election.

Mugabe has been in power since 1980 and Zanu-PF has previously been accused of election rigging and voter intimidation.

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