HARARE, Zimbabwe - President Robert Mugabe declared yesterday that "Zimbabwe is mine," saying that only Zimbabweans can remove him from power and that no African nation is brave enough to wrest it from him.
The ever-defiant Mugabe - leader for nearly three decades - hit back after the top U.S. envoy to Africa called for the "person who has ruined the country" to step down.
"I will never, never sell my country. I will never, never, never surrender," Mugabe told members of his ZANU-PF party. "Zimbabwe is mine. I am a Zimbabwean. Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans. Zimbabwe never for the British. Britain for the British."
He was cheered by flag-waving supporters at an annual three-day convention in Bindura, 60 miles northeast of Harare, the capital. Some wore shirts printed with pictures of Mugabe's face and sang his praise: "Stay with us. We know you are our president."
Mugabe, 84, has ruled the country since its 1980 independence from Britain and refused to leave office after disputed elections in March.
He has faced renewed criticism amid a humanitarian crisis that has pushed thousands of Zimbabweans to the point of starvation and left 1,123 people dead from cholera since August. President Bush, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have called for Mugabe to step down.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday that "last time the world checked, Zimbabwe belonged to the people of Zimbabwe."
"You know, again, it's a statement that I think sums up in a concise way what is at the root of Zimbabwe's problems," he said.
On Thursday, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs said questions about how much longer Zimbabwe can withstand hunger, disease and political stalemate before disintegrating ignore that "there is a complete collapse right now."
"We think that the person who has ruined the country . . . that he needs to step down," Jendayi Frazer said.
Mugabe called Frazer a "little girl" yesterday and questioned which African countries "would have the courage" to order a military intervention. Most neighboring countries, including regional giant South Africa, are opposed to such an intervention.
"What the Americans want just now, is the removal of President Mugabe. But President Mugabe has been elected by his people and we have told them as we have told the Europeans that the only persons with the power to remove Robert Gabriel Mugabe are the people of Zimbabwe," he said.