Tsvangirai urges Europe to increase food aid to Zimbabwe

PARIS – Morgan Tsvangirai, the prime minister-designate of Zimbabwe, made an urgent appeal to European countries Tuesday to be generous with food aid to alleviate increasingly critical food shortages in his country.

Tsvangirai, who remains Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader and entered a fragile power-sharing agreement with President Robert Mugabe in September, said food agencies needed $200 million dollars to feed more than 500 million people through January.

He blamed Mugabe’s rule for the shortages. But he also vowed to press ahead with efforts to form a joint government with Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, arguing that the president needed him and his Movement for Democratic Change.

"I don’t think ZANU-PF can afford a collapse of this agreement," he said in a joint news conference with the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, in Paris. "President Mugabe and his minority government cannot govern without the support of the MDC."

"Obviously we cannot continue to negotiate ad infinitum," he added. "We should be able to form a government at the earliest possible moment."

After disputed elections in March, Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed what was billed as a historic deal to share power – the first time Mugabe had shown himself ready to dilute his control of the country since its independence from Britain 28 years ago.

But since then, negotiations on sharing the responsibilities for running Zimbabwe have stalled, deadlocked over a dispute relating to control of the ministry that oversees the police.

In the past, the country’s powerful security forces have been key backers of Mugabe.

Last week, a regional grouping in southern Africa urged ZANU-PF and the MDC to share control of the ministry, but Tsvangirai rejected the call as unworkable and unfair.

The impasse has left the power-sharing deal in limbo. If Mugabe goes ahead and forms a government without his adversaries, moreover, it is difficult to see how negotiations could continue at all.

Tsvangirai is seeking broader diplomatic support, both in the African Union and the European Union. France currently holds the rotating presidency of the 27-nation European bloc.

Tsvangirai, who came to Paris after attending an EU conference on development Monday, said that he was traveling without a passport. He said Mugabe’s authorities had so far refused to issue him with a new passport after his old one was filled with visas.

Western donors have made large-scale development aid for Zimbabwe conditional on the creation of an inclusive government. A government without Tsvangirai would therefore be denied the economic help that Zimbabwe needs to rebuild itself.

While the political deadlock deepens, the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans confronting hyperinflation and hunger has worsened.

The World Food Program said this month that it had trimmed rations to Zimbabweans because of what it called a "severe funding crisis." The World Food Program is seeking $140 million in donations to stave off a looming crisis in early 2009 when it runs out of food to feed an estimated five million needy Zimbabweans, about 45 percent of the population.