Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said on Tuesday he had formed a working relationship with Robert Mugabe and saw scope for the long-serving president eventually to make a dignified exit from power.
Tsvangirai joined a unity government with rival Mugabe in February to end a political and economic crisis. Mugabe has ruled the southern African country since independence from Britain in 1980 and critics say he has ruined a once prosperous nation.
"It’s too early to say I trust him wholly, but where we differ, we differ respectfully," Tsvangirai told an audience after a speech in London.
"I’m prepared to work with him for the good of the country," added Tsvangirai, who said in 2007 he had been beaten at a police station after he was arrested at an anti-Mugabe rally.
Asked whether Mugabe might make a "dignified exit", Tsvangirai said the transition process provided a platform for him to go quietly, adding that Mugabe had the chance to restore his legacy as a founding father of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai have agreed on an 18-month timetable for political reforms, with a referendum on a new constitution to be held in little over a year.
Tsvangirai is on the final leg of a tour to Europe and the United States to drum up cash from Western donors, but the trip has yielded only small contributions towards the $10 billion Zimbabwe says it needs to rebuild its shattered economy.
Most donors are choosing to channel money through charities or U.N. agencies rather than give it to a government where Mugabe still wields influence.
Tsvangirai said the money received was sufficient to support basic services like health, education and food production.
"I think it’s quite substantial," he told reporters.
Tsvangirai said Zimbabwe had made huge strides since the unity government was formed in February.
"Zimbabwe has become a totally different place, a significantly better place, in the past four months," he said.
"As a society, we were near death, and we have come back to life."
That echoed comments from the minister for economic planning who told Reuters on Tuesday that Zimbabwe’s economy had turned around, with employment and industrial capacity use doubling and once record-breaking inflation under control.
But back at home, Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party said police were arresting its legislators and senior party members, while public media had increased hostile reporting to discredit and undermine the prime minister.
Senior MDC official Tapiwa Mashakada said Southern African leaders could meet next month to mediate in what the party says are continued violations by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF of a political pact signed last year.
Zimbabwe remains subject to Western sanctions. Britain denied Zimbabwe’s mines minister a visa for a mining investment conference in London, angering ZANU-PF.
Tsvangirai said he hoped sanctions could be removed if Zimbabwe proved it was committed to political reform.
"Eventually sanctions must be removed. It would be counter-productive to punish progress," he said.