The veteran leader, who has been at the helm of the southern African country for nearly 24 years since independence from Britain in 1980, had on Saturday accolades showered upon him at the ceremony at Kutama village in Zvimba, some 80 kms west of the capital. 

Leading the function was his second wife Grace, his former secretary and 40 years his junior. "He was well brought up and that this is why he has reached this age," said Grace, sporting a lilac and gold outfit, the theme colours for the celebrations. 

"Our children are still young .. I pray that God grants him many more years so that he can instill discipline in our children," she
added. 

Mugabe and his second wife have three children, the oldest of whom was born while he was still married to his popular Ghanaian-born wife, Sally Hafron, who died from a kidney ailment. 

Guests

The guests, including ministers, close family and villagers were seated under a sprawling white marquee. Lilac and gold balloons grouped together to form '80' bobbed in the air as the ceremony started with mass for Mugabe, a staunch Roman Catholic. 

Mugabe's younger sister Sabina said he was studious even as a child. 

"He had a high concentration, wanted to read very much. He was very hardworking, he would herd cattle and go to the fields but all the time he carried his books," she said. 

The festivities including songs by school choirs, martial music
by a police band and a series of songs by well-known Zimbabwean gospel singer Fungisai Zvakavapano, whose repertoire also included "Happy Birthday to you." 
Grace kissed her husband and briefly danced with Mugabe. 

Retirement

The EU has frozen President
Mugabe's assets

In an interview broadcast on state television and radio on the eve on his birthday, Mugabe said in five years' time he would have retired, but still be in politics.

"In five years, (I will be) here, still boxing, writing quite a lot, reading quite a lot and still in politics, I won't leave politics, but I will have retired obviously," he said.

Mugabe was re-elected in March 2002 presidential polls which were disputed by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as fraudulent and marked with rights abuses.

Mugabe said lobbying by the opposition for sanctions against him was "very wrong and very condemnable" but said he was prepared to hold talks with the opposition and take on their ideas.

"We are prepared to discuss with them the way forward.

"But if they are going to now seek the hand of our enemy to destroy our economy we begin to wonder whether they are for the people or against the people," he said, referring to the MDC which lobbied for the renewal of EU sanctions against Mugabe and his close associates.

EU extends sanctions

"In five years, (I will be) here, still boxing, writing quite a lot, reading quite a lot and still in politics, I won't leave politics, but I will have retired obviously."

Robert Mugabe
Zimbawean President

On Thursday the European Union extended the sanctions by another year, targeting Mugabe and 94 officials who are barred from entering the 15-nation bloc and have their assets in Europe frozen.

The government has said the drive to place Mugabe under sanctions is being led by Britain, which has an issue to solve with the southern African country over the controversial land reforms of taking land from whites.

Mugabe, however, said not all European countries shared the same views about Zimbabwe as British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

He listed several countries in Europe who remain friendly towards Zimbabwe, among them Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

"They have to go with Europe as a team, the European Union, when decisions are made on the basis of the majority, every member is bound to observe sanctions against us."

Blair a 'liar'

But he went on to attack the British leader.

"Blair obviously has always been a b-liar, he can never change his name can he?"

He criticised the United Kingdom's and the United States' war on Iraq.

"Mr Blair and Mr Bush, they are twins, isn't it in telling lies?" he said.

He, however, said his government preferred to work with the World Bank as opposed to the International Monetary Fund.

"We have had quite a favourable relationship with the World Bank ... we have not said down with them," he said promising to repay debts owed to the international lender.

"But I am not so sure with the IMF... whether we are on good terms with them, whether we could go back to them and invite them to help us, I doubt, because their ideas are completely wrong," he said.