/ 22 June 2009

Zim govt making progress, says Tsvangirai

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai insisted on Monday that his country’s coalition government is improving a dire humanitarian and economic crisis, and he urged exiles to return home to help rebuild.

Wrapping up a tour of the United States and Europe, Tsvangirai said that reforms are being carried out, amid criticism at the slow rate of improvements since he joined a power-sharing government with President Robert Mugabe in February.

Following talks with Tsvangirai, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged £5-million in new aid for food projects and textbooks, and said more funding was likely if Zimbabwe showed clear progress on reforms.

”There are great signs of progress — a budget and economic plans are in place, schools are reopening and children are once again filling the classrooms,” Brown said. ”As a result of the progress, we will increase our support to help Zimbabwe move from mere survival towards a genuine recovery.”

Tsvangirai said his partnership with Mugabe ”was not perfect, but a workable solution”, until Zimbabwe has a new Constitution, and can hold new elections.

”I want to assure you we are in an irreversible process towards consolidating the democratic values. I am conscious of the shortcomings … ,” Tsvangirai told reporters. ”I know that the world is anxious to see signs of progress.”

Brown said the meeting with Tsvangirai was the first between a British and Zimbabwean prime minister in 25 years. Mugabe, who has ruled since the 1980s, abolished the post of prime minister in 1987.

Britain is Zimbabwe’s former colonial ruler, and the government last invited Mugabe here in 1994 — when he collected a knighthood.

Queen Elizabeth II has since stripped Mugabe of his ceremonial honour.

Protesters jeered Tsvangirai at a London church on Saturday when he appealed to expatriates to return home and help rebuild the Southern African country. About one million Zimbabweans live in Britain, Tsvangirai said.

”Those who are living in Britain, because they don’t see Mugabe disappearing, they conclude that nothing has changed. I want to assure you, that this is not the case,” he said.

He referred to the critics during an interview with Sky News on Monday, saying, ”The jeering is appreciated, because you see the thing is that we are trying to demonstrate that if you can jeer to your leader, that is the democratic objective we want to achieve back home, not here in London.”

Zimbabwe has had the highest inflation rate in the world, thousands have died during a major cholera outbreak, and much of the population lacks food. Many blame Mugabe, but have been increasingly critical of Tsvangirai.

The United States and Britain want Mugabe to step down, and they are reluctant to offer Zimbabwe major aid, or to donate money direct to the country’s government.

Current aid packages are being distributed by charities, including the World Food Programme. — Sapa-AP