- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009

HARARE, Zimbabwe | Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said Thursday that foreign journalists are free to report in the troubled southern African nation where many have previously been banned and others arrested and harassed.

The veteran opposition leader who formed a coalition with longtime President Robert Mugabe in February said continuing violations of the power-sharing deal threaten the unity government, but insisted that progress has been made.

Mr. Tsvangirai deplored recent arrests of independent journalists and lawyers and called for a “new culture of respect.”

He said a new state media commission would be formed to “facilitate the opening up of media space.”

Stringent licensing of local and foreign journalists that effectively banned most foreign news organizations from entering the country had ceased to apply under the coalition agreement, he said.

Journalists and media organization no longer are legally obliged to apply for accreditation until a new media commission is in place, Mr. Tsvangirai said.

Some organizations such as the British Broadcasting Corp. were banned from entering the country while others have been deterred by licensing fees in the tens of thousands of U.S. dollars. Some journalists entered and worked unofficially.

“There’s no reason why these news agencies and groups should not be in the country,” Mr. Tsvangirai said.

In another step forward, he said the coalition partners have agreed on how to share the posts of provincial governors and civil servants to head ministries, significant sticking points that had paralyzed the unity government.

However, regional leaders still will be asked to mediate the deadlock over two appointments seen as vital to Zimbabwe’s economic recovery and restoring the rule of law. Mr. Mugabe had unilaterally reappointed central bank Gov. Gideon Gono and Attorney General Johannes Tomana, in what Mr. Tsvangirai’s party claims is a violation of the unity government agreement.

Mr. Gono, who has held the position since November 2003, is blamed for the economic collapse by printing Zimbabwe dollars until they were worthless and raiding hundreds of millions of dollars from foreign currency accounts belonging to international aid groups and businesses.

Mr. Tomana has ignored the ruling of the regional court of the Southern African Development Community to support continued state-sponsored seizures of the few remaining white-owned commercial farms in Zimbabwe. The seizures brought about the collapse of the agriculture-based economy and left the country dependent on international food handouts.

Western donors, led by the United States and Britain, have refused to provide aid to support the unity government, saying they want to see Mr. Mugabe’s commitment to the rule of law and ensure that aid reaches the people in need.

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