Humble Pie: Treasury virtually empty, Robert Mugabe begs West for help

"I on behalf of the inclusive government and the people of Zimbabwe say, friends of Zimbabwe please come to our aid," Mugabe said at the launch of a new economic recovery plan prepared by the month-old unity government.

"To the European Union and the United States, I appeal for the removal of your sanctions which are inhumane, cruel and unwarranted."

"We also wish to appeal to all those countries which wish us to succeed to support our national endeavour to turn around our economy," he added.

The European Union and the United States maintain a travel ban and asset freeze on Mugabe and his inner circle in protest at controversial elections and alleged human rights abuses by his government.

Although his long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai became prime minister in a unity government last month, western countries say they will maintain the sanctions until the 85-year-old leader proves he is ready to reform.

Zimbabwe’s once-dynamic economy has been crushed by world-record hyperinflation and the collapse of farming, mining and manufacturing.

Budget slashes in half

Finance Minister Tendai Biti, Tsvangirai’s top aide, slashed the government budget by nearly half on Wednesday, saying that revenues would be 43% lower than predicted just two months ago.

Tsvangirai has asked neighbouring countries for $2bn to help jump-start the economy, but has said that a total of $5bn would be needed to put the country back on track.

Mugabe did not say how much aid Zimbabwe wanted, as he launched the Short-term Emergency Recovery Progamme (STERP) in a ceremony at a Harare hotel.

"The successful implementation of STERP will indeed require a substantial amount of resources…We hope these will be forthcoming," he said.