China pays tribute to ‘outstanding’ Zimbabwe leader Mugabe

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 2, 2002 Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe listens to speeches during a session of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) at Sandton convention center in Johannesburg. – Robert Mugabe, who led Zimbabwe with an iron fist from 1980 to 2017, has died aged 95, the country’s president announced on September 6, 2019. (Photo by Anna ZIEMINSKI / AFP)

BEIJING, China (AFP) — Beijing paid tribute to Zimbabwe’s former leader Robert Mugabe whose death was announced Friday, saying he was an “outstanding national liberation movement leader and politician”.

China was one of the staunchest supporters of Mugabe, who lead from 1980 to 2017. His death at the age of 95 was announced by Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

“Mugabe was an outstanding national liberation movement leader and politician of Zimbabwe,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a press briefing in Beijing.

“Throughout his life, he has firmly defended the sovereignty of his country, opposed foreign interference, and actively promoted China-Zimbabwe and China-Africa friendship and cooperation,” said Geng.

Relations between China and Zimbabwe date back to the liberation struggle of the 1960s, when Beijing provided arms and trained some of the top guerrilla leaders.

Mugabe had been battling ill health, and after he was ousted by previously loyal military generals in November 2017 his stamina seeped away rapidly.

He was hospitalized in Singapore for months for an undisclosed ailment, Mnangagwa had confirmed earlier this year.

No further details were immediately available about the circumstances of his death, or where he died.

China has funded and provided loans for many infrastructure projects across Africa in recent years, including the new parliament building in Zimbabwe.

Last year President Xi Jinping greeted Mnangagwa as an “old friend” of China when the African leader visited Beijing.

© Agence France-Presse