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05.04.2009 Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe 'to re-engage with West'

By myjoyonline
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Zimbabwe's new coalition government has adopted a 100-day renewal plan aimed at mending ties with the West after years of isolation under Robert Mugabe.

Ministers on a three-day retreat hammered out the plan which is meant to yield a new constitution by next year.

Restrictions on foreign media are due to be lifted and human rights restored.

Correspondents at the talks say there is some scepticism that such ambitious targets can be met in such a short space of time.

After Zimbabwe quit the Commonwealth in 2003, the EU and US imposed travel bans on Mr Mugabe and his circle.

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was sworn in as prime minister in February 2009, following months of wrangling over a power-sharing agreement originally signed with Mr Mugabe in September 2008.

Meeting and bonding
Five priorities have been set out in the plan agreed in the resort town of Victoria Falls: restoring human rights, addressing security concerns, stabilising the economy, building infrastructure and re-engaging the international community.

Relaxation of the media regulations means that independent local and international media should be allowed to operate freely.

Broad consultations are due to be be held on the new constitution ahead of a stakeholders' conference three months from now.

Patrick Chinamasa, the justice minister and an MP from Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, said his country wanted normal relations with the West.

"We have committed ourselves to normalising relations between Zimbabwe and those countries which disengaged their relationship and this is primarily the EU, the United Kingdom, the United States and the white Commonwealth countries," he said.

"So we have now said that we are going to re-engage them. A core team of ministers has been set up to expiate the re-engagement."

Eric Matinenga, the constitutional affairs minister and an MP from Mr Tsvangirai's MDC, said broad consultations would be held on the new constitution.

"We are already starting to engage the various groups and the population to make sure that the constitution is acceptable to the people of Zimbabwe," he said.

Former political rivals may have faced each other and bonded, Zimbabwean journalist Brian Hungwe reports from Victoria Falls, but the big task now is implementation.

Tsvangirai tragedy
Mr Tsvangirai was at the talks in Victoria Falls but left on Saturday after hearing news of a new family tragedy, less than a month after his wife Susan died in a car crash which he himself survived.

His two-year-old grandson Sean drowned in a swimming pool at Mr Tsvangirai's home in Harare on Saturday afternoon, spokesman James Maridadi said.

The boy was the child of Mr Tsvangirai's son Garikai and his wife Lilian, who are based in Canada, the spokesman told AFP news agency.

He will be buried on Monday in Buhera, south-east of the capital, next to his grandmother Susan.

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