Zimbabwe's premier seeks French aid, investment


    Tsvangirai is meeting Thursday with French Prime Minister Francois Fillon and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Paris, the last stop in a long tour of the United States and Europe aimed at shoring up international backing.

    The Zimbabwean prime minister will meet Friday with Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, a group of leading French executives and with the director of the French Development Agency. The French Foreign Ministry says aid and investment top his agenda.

    Zimbabwe has had the highest inflation rate in the world, thousands have died during a major cholera outbreak, and much of the population lacks food. Many blame Mugabe, but have been increasingly critical of Tsvangirai.

    Tsvangirai won presidential elections last year and is in a power-sharing agreement with authoritarian President Robert Mugabe.

    In Britain this week, Tsvangirai insisted that his country’s coalition government is improving the dire humanitarian and economic crisis, and he urged exiles to return home to help rebuild. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged 5 million pounds ($8.2 million) in new aid for food projects and textbooks, and said more funding was likely if Zimbabwe showed clear progress on reforms.

    But, like other international donors, Britain said aid would be distributed by charities, not Zimbabwe’s government.

    The U.S. and Britain want Mugabe to step down, and are reluctant to offer Zimbabwe major aid, or to donate money direct to the country’s government.