Tsvangirai: shunning Zimbabwe bolsters hardliners

Tsvangirai formed the new coalition administration with long-time rival President Robert Mugabe in February but Western countries, which can unlock much-needed financial aid, remain cautious and are demanding widespread reforms.

"My advice is for the international community to engage Zimbabwe as the opposite of this will only benefit hardliners," Tsvangirai told a visiting French minister.

Tsvangirai repeatedly has said there are a few "residual" elements from Mugabe’s past government who want to see the unity government fail and return to the old order.

Anne-Marie Idrac, France’s Minister of State for Foreign Trade, said her country had been impressed by the unity government but pressed for more reforms and respect for human rights.

Police have arrested journalists, lawyers and members of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change legislators in recent weeks, heightening tensions in the unity government.

"We are very impressed by the progress you have made during the first hundred days," Idrac said.

Idrac, making the first visit by a French minister since 1996, said a French business team would visit Zimbabwe next week to explore opportunities especially in the power sector.

Tsvangirai will visit France on June 25, his first trip abroad since becoming prime minister, and will also travel to Britain and United States where he will meet government officials.