PM throws gauntlet at Robert Mugabe

Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party continues to persecute supporters of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), despite guarantees of political freedoms in the unity accord, Tsvangirai said at a rally marking his party’s 10th anniversary.

"I am not going to stand by while ZANU-PF continues to violate the law, persecutes our members of parliament, spreads the language of hate, invades our productive farms (and) ignores our international treaties," he said.

"I am not going to stand by and let this happen."

"I have done my part to promote reconciliation in this country. Even after winning the election, I have compromised for the sake of Zimbabwe," he said. "But please, don’t misjudge me… You misjudge me at your own peril."

"We want partners that are sincere… We want partners who are going to commit themselves to good governance principles," he said. "We cannot have partners of looters."

Tsvangirai joined Mugabe in a unity government in February in a bid to end political unrest that erupted after last year’s failed elections. But the two remain deadlocked over key appointments, and the MDC says its supporters still suffer political attacks.

Tsvangirai said the MDC would launch a national campaign to consult the public on the future of the unity government over the next month.

"We are coming to you. Is this government sustainable? It is you the people who shall give us direction," he said.

Traditional dancers in feathered masks, a capella choirs and Zimbabwean pop bands performed ahead of the party leader’s speech in a stadium in Bulawayo, the country’s second city and a bastion of support for Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The rally came as an EU delegation wrapped up a two-day visit to Zimbabwe, the first in seven years, following rare talks Saturday with long-ruling President Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai and Mugabe formed a power-sharing government in February, but remain bitterly split over appointments to key posts and claims of official persecution against MDC activists.

But for most Zimbabweans, life has improved this year after the government abandoned the local currency, worthless after years of hyperinflation, and eased price controls that have allowed shops to restock food and businesses to slowly resume operations.

"We are now free. We can work, we can eat. Now we can eat bread," said Gladys Sengwayo, a 44-year-old who brought her infant granddaughter and three other family members to the rally.

"Last year, we were suffering. Some people died at home. We had nothing to eat," she said.

Shops across the country closed their doors last year, unable to replenish stocks, while crops failed across the country, leaving nearly seven million people in need of food aid — more than half the country.

This year, the UN estimates less than three million people will need food aid, while businesses are slowly resuming operations, though most of the population remains deeply impoverished.

"I know that taking the step to join this government was not easy," Tsvangirai told his party’s top leaders late Saturday.

"But it is a step in the right direction. We remain committed to the ideals of real change, and real change will come to Zimbabwe," he said.

The MDC was formed on September 11, 1999 after a coalition of rights groups, churches and civic society agreed to launch an opposition party to challenge Mugabe’s rule.

The party made rapid electoral gains in its first year, finally seizing a parliamentary majority in last year’s elections, when
Tsvangirai also defeated Mugabe in a first-round presidential vote.

Tsvangirai pulled out of the runoff, citing a wave of deadly attacks on his supporters that MDC says left more than 200 dead.

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki mediated a unity accord one year ago that eventually led to the power-sharing government.

The unity government is meant as a transitional authority to oversee the writing of a new constitution that will guide the
nation to fresh elections.

The EU delegation said after its talks with the nation’s leaders that the process needed to include human rights protections, media freedom and other political reforms.

Tsvangirai has launched a major effort at normalising ties with western nations, who have imposed sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle following 2002 elections that western observers and local poll monitors said were flawed.

Mugabe regularly lashes out over the sanctions, which include a travel ban and asset freeze on his family and top aides.

The EU team on Sunday planned to visit clean water projects aimed at preventing a new outbreak of cholera, which has killed more than 4,200 people since August 2008. They were set to leave Zimbabwe later in the day.