HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe's president on Monday called for an end to violence and hostility as the country moves toward a constitutional referendum and elections.
President Robert Mugabe, 88, in an hour-long address at a national shrine known as Heroes Acre outside Harare, said he wanted all parties and religious and activist groups to show tolerance for each other in the coming months.
"If people have a difference of opinion and want to defect from one party to another, it must be respected and expressed in elections. We don't want any more violence or blood spilt," Mugabe said, speaking mostly in the local Shona language.
The last disputed elections in 2008 were marred by violence blamed mainly on Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and led to a power sharing coalition with the former opposition brokered by regional leaders.
As the leader clenched his fist and raised it into the air, he reassured Zimbabweans that the image of the fist is not a gesture of violence despite its past use.
"It was not for violence against our own kind," he said of the party's fist symbol. Amid violence in recent years, Mugabe has often raised his fist in the air as a warning to political opponents. The raised fist, Mugabe said, was used to fight colonial-era white rule and was "the punch that knocked them down." He used it Monday to salute guerrillas who died in the bush war that ended white rule in 1980.