China hands over revamped stadium to Zimbabwe

BEIJING - China has handed over a revamped national stadium to Zimbabwe after refurbishments costing $10 million, state media said on Sunday, in a further sign of Chinese support for a government reviled in the West.

China first built the 60,000-seat stadium in 1987, but it has been closed for renovations for the past three years, the official Xinhua news agency said.

"The construction and refurbishment of the stadium cement the traditional friendship between our two countries," it quoted Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe, Xin Shunkang, as saying.

Zimbabwe's Vice President Joyce Mujuru "thanked China for renovating the stadium and assisting other areas of the Zimbabwean economy", Xinhua added.

The stadium has been "transformed into a world-class stadium that met the standards of the Confederation of African Football", the report said.

Hailed as a saviour by fanatical supporters and praised throughout Africa for standing up to what many see as bullying by the West, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is hated in equal measure by opponents who accuse him of being a dictator.

Mugabe denies charges of human rights abuses and insists the West has withheld aid mainly in protest over his controversial seizure of white-owned commercial farms for resettlement among blacks.

Mugabe has tried to boost economic ties with Asian countries such as China and Malaysia.

China's embassy in Zimbabwe in February threw a birthday party for Mugabe.

Beijing and Chinese companies have pledged tens of billions of dollars to Africa in loans and investments, mostly to secure raw materials for the world's fastest-growing major economy.

Rights groups have repeatedly criticised China for propping up dictatorial and corrupt African nations. China counters it offers no-strings aid and that its pledge not to interfere in any country's internal affairs is welcomed by African nations.

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