Reuters International

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe gestures from on board a truck as he inspects a guard of honour during the Defence Force's 36th Anniversary celebrations in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe, August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

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By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe is trying to improve accommodation for the military, President Robert Mugabe said on Tuesday, in a bid to retain its support despite recent pay delays as the government goes through its tightest cash squeeze in seven years.

The military has underpinned 92-year-old Mugabe's often controversial rule over the southern African nation since it won independence from Britain in 1980.

But mounting economic woes have seen his government fail to pay soldiers, police and the other public workers who make up the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) on time in the last few months.

Mugabe did not comment on the pay delays in a speech to mark ZDF Day, but he said the forces had recently bought a new fleet of vehicles to carry troops, cars for its staff and buses to transport personnel to work.

"Efforts are still under way to provide decent accommodation to members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces," he said, without giving details.

Analysts say the pay delays could stoke political tension in a nation plagued by drought, a drop in mineral prices and chronic cash shortages - all of which has led to recent unrest against the ageing leader.

Zimbabwe has witnessed anti-government protests including violent clashes between the police and taxi drivers on July 4, while the biggest strike in a decade shut down businesses countrywide two days later.

Nevertheless, ZDF Commander General Constantino Chiwenga told reporters from the state-owned media that the force was fully behind the leadership of Mugabe, who last month received a stinging rebuke from his former war-veteran allies.

Chiwenga described as "nonsense" a stream of local private media reports that he harboured political ambitions and supported Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to take over from Mugabe.

Divisions have emerged within the ruling ZANU-PF party as senior officials position for a post-Mugabe era, with two factions emerging, one seen supporting Mnangagwa and another rallying behind Mugabe's wife Grace.

"The African proverb which says 'There is no sun which rises before another sets' holds true, because no nation can ever have two leaders," Chiwenga said.

"The ZDF will never accept any unconstitutional change of Government and we stand firm and unequivocal by the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe."

(Editing by James Macharia and Hugh Lawson)

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