- (Photo: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo)
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe claims to be "fit as a fiddle" as he celebrates his 88th birthday Tuesday, and insists he has no intention of stepping down anytime soon.
In a radio interview on Tuesday, Africa's oldest leader revealed that he has no immediate plan to retire, ignoring international criticism of his economic policies and human rights record.
"I have died many times. That's where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once," Mugabe, a self-proclaimed devout Roman Catholic, told state radio as reported by MSN.
The comment was in reference to questions regarding Mugabe's health. A June 2008 leaked U.S. diplomatic cable, published by whistle-blower website Wikileaks in Sept. 2011, stated that Mugabe had prostate cancer and was to die by 2013.
Mugabe has never confirmed the cancer claims, and his supporters, including members of his political party Zanu PF, dismiss them as fiction.
Mugabe attributes his good health to a daily exercise regimen, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, and maintaining a healthy diet.
In a separate interview with state television, also held Tuesday, Mugabe said, "There are things one must do for oneself. Don't drink at all, don't smoke, you must exercise and eat vegetables and fruit."
"At this age, I can still go some distance, can't I?" Mugabe told the television broadcaster.
Mugabe added that the people of Zimbabwe will be allowed to choose a successor "once I say I am now retiring, but not yet."
Many critics from the international community argue that Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1987, violated human rights in order to maintain his grasp on power. In 2007, Parade Magazine voted him the world's 7th worst dictator.
In 2006, the African Union's Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights condemned Zimbabwe's government for allegedly displacing several Zimbabwean citizens from their homes.
Mugabe has also been criticized for his economic policies. Although many see him as a hero because he argues for the empowerment of local businessmen, others criticize his policies as being ineffective.
Currently, Zimbabwe is burdened by a large external debt.
Mugabe is to celebrate his 88th birthday this upcoming weekend with a lunch and a soccer match to follow at a field located in Mutare, Zimbabwe.