Mugabe’s move to unblock progress on a number of issues is designed to stem any censure by Sadc of his leadership for failing to implement points agreed upon during the formation of the unity government.

South African President Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday measures would be taken within Sadc to ensure the inclusive government succeeded.

This week saw a raft of reforms in Zimbabwe, which is still trying to recover from years of repression and economic ruin.

The range of reforms allowed by Mugabe includes lifting bans on public demonstrations, the licensing of newspapers, allowing international broadcasters such as CNN and BBC back into Zimbabwe, and implementation of the provisions of the political agreement on co-operation in the appointment of ambassadors and provincial governors, and representation on the National Security Council.

But MPs from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Mugabe’s rivals, still face a crackdown led by Mugabe’s allies. Six MPs have been jailed and others face arrest for alleged crimes ranging from abduction , violence, corruption and rape.

The National Security Council met for the first time yesterday. The council replaced the Joint Operations Command (JOC), a pillar of Mugabe’s previous regime which brought together the army, police and intelligence chiefs.

Mugabe effectively ran the country through JOC structures, undermining civilian governance. The JOC was notorious for authorising crackdowns on political rivals in the MDC and harshly silencing dissent.

For the first time, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister in the coalition government, formally came face to face with military and police commanders who had repeatedly vowed not to salute him even if he won elections. They also previously made veiled threats to overthrow him in a military coup.

The National Security Council meeting, chaired by Mugabe, was also attended by the vice-presidents, two deputy prime ministers, and ministers of finance, defence and home affairs. The three parties in government also each nominated a minister to attend.

Also there were the state security minister, chief secretary to the president and cabinet, secretary to the prime minister, defence forces commanders and the director-general of the Central Intelligence Organisation.

The council’s main function is to review policies on security, defence and law and order.

State Security Minister Sydney Sekeramayi said the meeting was “warm and cordial”.

The government lifted the ban on the privately owned Daily News, which was shut down in 2003. Letters to Daily News lawyers confirmed the newspaper’s licence had been restored.