Mugabe orders new planes from 'Asian ally'

Harare - Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday commissioned two of three passenger planes bought from China, praising the Asian nation for standing by his country, which has been cut off from its former friends in the West.

"The delivery of the two aircraft is symbolic of our resolve to foster even stronger ties with our friends who have supported our cause," Mugabe told hundreds gathered at Harare's International Airport to see the planes off on their maiden flight to the resort town of Victoria Falls.

"They supported us during our liberation struggle... they have continued to extend a hand of solidarity. The Republic of China is steadily becoming the largest foreign investor in Zimbabwe and our biggest trading partner."

Following sanctions and isolation by western countries over the political crisis in the country, Zimbabwe has adopted the "Look East" policy, fostering new relations with Asian countries, particularly China, Malaysia, Singapore.

Air Zimbabwe bought the MA60 52-seater planes from the Chinese state-owned AVIC aircraft manufacturer and received a third plane as a gift from the Chinese government.

"We are proud that our national airline is responding to our burgeoning 'Look East' policy," Mugabe said. "Look east, we say, where the sun rises."

The purchase by Air Zimbabwe comes just weeks after the southern African country took delivery of six Chinese-made Karakorum 8 (K-8) military trainer jets.

The 60-seater propeller planes will take on domestic and regional routes that have been serviced by long-haul Boeing aircraft.

Last month Zimbabwe's national passenger bus company took delivery of 50 commuter buses bought from First Automobile Works in China. - Sapa-AFP

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