Thousands of people marched through Zimbabwe's capital Harare on Wednesday in support of President Robert Mugabe as he denounced "treasonous" factions in his ZANU-PF party feuding over who should succeed the 92-year-old leader.
Mugabe is the only leader the southern African nation has known since independence from Britain in 1980. He has said he wants to live to 100 and remains fit, denying local media reports that he has prostate cancer.
As senior members of ZANU-PF maneuver for advantage in a post-Mugabe era, two factions have emerged, one linked to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and one to Mugabe's wife Grace.
"There should never be little groups to promote so and so. Those little groups are treasonous groups, they spoil the party," Mugabe told tens of thousands of faithful who gathered for a "One Million-Man" march in Harare.
"Let us not hear discordant voices from whomsoever. All this thing about factions is new to us, it destabilizes the party," said Mugabe, touting the march as a "great revolutionary act" by ZANU-PF youth.
First Lady Grace Mugabe told the crowd earlier that the veteran leader was irreplaceable and the unifying force in ZANU-PF who would continue to lead Zimbabwe even in death.
Mugabe said local private media calling on him to step down should "go hang," adding that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) also wanted him to resign because they feared he would defeat them again in elections.
MDC spokesman Obert Gutu said Wednesday's march was an attempt to paper over ZANU-PF's disintegration. "The majority of Zimbabweans are living in grinding poverty and are not happy. So ZANU-PF wants to divert people's attention from the collapsing economy and to massage RobertMugabe's ego," he said.
"If anything, Zimbabweans should march and demand Mugabe's immediate resignation from office."
Demonstrators were shipped in from all over Zimbabwe for the march, organized by the ZANU-PF's youth wing. They sang pro-Mugabe songs as they spilled out of buses in downtown Harare.
Mugabe's supporters call him an African icon who stands up to the West. Critics say he has ruined a once promising economy with policies such as the seizure and redistribution of white-owned commercial farms, which devastated agriculture.
Up to four million Zimbabweans are now in need of food assistance, up from 1.5 million last year. Although weather patterns are partially to blame, "critics have blamed the drought on lack of proper planning, accusing the government of downplaying the hunger situation," as The Christian Science Monitor reported in March.
"We are here to tell everyone that the youth league is 100 percent behind comrade Mugabe's leadership," said Prosper Machado, a youth leader from central Zimbabwe.
"We are saying no to factionalism because President Mugabe is the only center of power that we recognize. He is our candidate for 2018 (elections) and so there is no vacancy."
(Editing by James Macharia and Mark Heinrich)