Hard realism as world greets new-look Zimbabwe regime

London – Zimbabwe's former colonial ruler Britain, the US, Europe and the UN Wednesday hailed Morgan Tsvangirai's appointment as premier but said the ruined and divided nation faced a rocky road to recovery.\r\n

"Morgan Tsvangirais?appointment?offers the possibility of a change for the better," said Foreign Secretary David Miliband while underscoring that the veteran opposition leader should be given enough leeway to usher in change.

"They?will need to?be given the?room to lead change,?not least from?Zanu-PF and its leadership," he said, referring to veteran President Robert Mugabe’s party.

"Britain and the international community will be looking for the whole government to demonstrate, through its actions,?a clear commitment to the reforms?that the Zimbabwean people?so deserve."

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He said Tsvangirai – a persistent thorn in Mugabe’s flesh – and his?team?"have a formidable challenge in bringing?legitimacy and?reform to Zimbabwe’s government."

Tsvangirai’s swearing-in Wednesday caps nearly a year of turmoil that began last March, when he won a first-round presidential vote that was greeted with nationwide political violence, mostly against his supporters.

Hoping to end the unrest that left at least 180 dead, Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off and left Mugabe to claim a one-sided victory denounced as a farce by the world community.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hailed Tsvangirai’s swearing-in and urged the unity government to address critical problems immediately.

"The new government of national unity will need to immediately address the economic and humanitarian crises in the country, including the current cholera epidemic," Ban’s press office said in a statement.

The European Union, which like the United States has slapped sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle, expressed hope the new set-up would be able to end years of crises and restore democracy.

"This is an important step towards democratic rule in the country. The EU hopes that the formation of the new government will lead to an immediate end to political violence and intimidation… and the stabilisation and recovery of Zimbabwe," it said in a statement.

Washington, like the other Western donors, said it was too early to be optimistic.

"We need to see evidence of good governance and particularly real, true power-sharing on the part of Robert Mugabe before we are going to make any kind of commitment… to provide further development assistance or to easing sanctions," State Department acting spokesperson Robert Wood told reporters.

South Africa brokered the unity deal, which was signed on September 15 but stalled amid protracted talks on how to distribute cabinet posts and share control of the security forces.

Those concerns were finally addressed when the parties agreed to name co-ministers to home affairs, which oversees the police, and to create a new national body giving all parties control of the security forces.

Zimbabwe’s southern neighbour South Africa, which has seen an estimated three million people cross the border into its territory during the crisis, described the moment as an "important milestone" for national healing.

"South Africa and indeed the entire (southern African) region stands ready to support the people of Zimbabwe morally, politically and economically as they embark on this difficult path of reconstruction and development of their country," President Kgalema Motlanthe said.

Today’s Zimbabwe – steered by Mugabe since its 1980 independence from Britain – bears virtually no relation its former self when it was regarded as a model economy and its currency was on a par with the British pound.

Now it has the world’s highest inflation rate, the currency is in freefall and more than half its population needs emergency food aid. Unemployment is at 94 percent and a cholera epidemic has hit nearly 70 000 people since August, killing about 3 400. – AFP