- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

HARARE, Zimbabwe | President Robert Mugabe and a longtime opposition leader-turned-finance minister made an unusual joint appeal Thursday for $5 billion in international aid to revive Zimbabwe’s shattered economy.

The two men presented an economic recovery program that scraps stringent price controls that fueled black marketeering and inflation. It also sets up “safety nets and social protection for vulnerable groups exposed to market forces,” Finance Minister Tendai Biti said, without offering details.

The longtime opponents disagreed, however, over the causes of the country’s economic collapse.

Mr. Biti said that Zimbabwe had to do its part by restoring democratic freedoms and the rule of law. He said a new wave of seizures of white-owned farms in recent weeks blamed on Mugabe loyalists must stop.

“For the economy to turn around, we need to have good governance. Our politics must be right,” he told business leaders and government officials at the presentation in Harare. “We are asking our international friends to help us.”

Mr. Mugabe said economic recovery required foreign aid and the removal of Western economic sanctions.

“We wish to appeal to all those countries which wish us to succeed to support our national endeavor. Friends of Zimbabwe, please come to our aid,” he said. “I appeal for the removal of your sanctions, which are inhuman, cruel and unwarranted.”

Britain, the former colonial power, the European Union and the United States insist their official sanctions - imposing travel and visa restrictions on Mr. Mugabe and more than 200 of his party leaders, government officials and loyalists - have little bearing on the economic crisis.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood said the U.S. aid priority was to respond to Zimbabwe’s humanitarian crisis.

The U.S. is awaiting evidence that Zimbabwe was “firmly and irrevocably on a path to inclusive and effective governance, and as well as respect for human rights and the rule of law,” he said. “But this government has to show more before we will consider … removing any targeted sanctions or for putting together … an aid package.”

Some whites have been driven from their properties and their homes looted since Mr. Mugabe ordered an often-violent land redistribution campaign in 2000. The former regional breadbasket now faces chronic shortages of food, gasoline, most basic goods, power and water supplies and by far the world’s highest rate of inflation.

International donors are already helping Zimbabwe cope with hunger and cholera crises. But, suspicious of Mr. Mugabe, they have hesitated to pour in development aid until they see that Mr. Biti’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has real authority.

Mr. Biti presented a budget to Parliament on Wednesday that sharply cut a $1.7 billion interim budget proposal by Mr. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party in January. Mr. Biti called the $1 billion plan a “reality budget,” saying Zimbabwe has to live within its means.

Mr. Mugabe signed a power-sharing deal with Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC on Sept. 15 after disputed elections earlier that year. After protracted negotiations on the allocation of key government ministries, the coalition was sworn in last month with Mr. Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980, remaining president and Mr. Tsvangirai taking the new post of prime minister.

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