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“We are saying time has come now to prepare to have elections. We just have to have elections next year,” the 87-year-old who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, told a conference of his ruling ZANU-PF.

Mr. Mugabe had pushed for elections in 2011. However, in a sign of his more limited power under the unity accord, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, his main rival, who also leads the Movement for Democratic Change, rebuffed his demands, with regional backing.

The unity deal calls for a new constitution to be approved by referendum, a process running more than a year behind schedule with no firm indication of when it will be complete.

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