Zimbabwe's Tsvangirai to seek aid in Europe, U.S

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai left for Europe and the United States on Saturday to try to drum up financial aid for a unity government he formed with rival President Robert Mugabe.

Tsvangirai will visit the Netherlands, Britain, France, Sweden and Brussels, seat of the 27-nation European Union, to try to help Zimbabwe's battered economy. He will meet U.S. President Barack Obama during a four-day trip to Washington.

"I am meeting all the heads of government of the countries I am visiting ... I hope that we will be able to put our case across and for the rest of the world to give the inclusive government the benefit of doubt," Tsvangirai told reporters.

Tsvangirai formed a unity government with rival Mugabe in February after an electoral standoff that worsened an economic crisis, which many critics blame on the veteran Zimbabwean president.

Many Western countries imposed sanctions on Mugabe's ZANU-PF government over charges of human rights abuses, vote-rigging and its seizures of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to blacks without paying compensation.

Mugabe, 85, and in power since independence from Britain in 1980, says Zimbabwe's once-prosperous economy has been wrecked by sanctions and his land policy is aimed at correcting colonial injustices.

Western donors say they will not release substantial aid until Zimbabwe's new administration undertakes political and other reforms. Harare says it needs about $10 billion for its short-term economic recovery program, but has so far secured credit lines worth about $1 billion from Africa.

Asked if he would be able to convince Western countries to release aid, Tsvangirai said: "I'm optimistic because Zimbabwe has gone through a very difficult period. The country has been in isolation in the last 10 years. It's time we put our case across."

Tsvangirai says he has a "workable relationship" with Mugabe although there are still disputes in the unity government over Mugabe's appointment of his allies as heads of the central bank and the attorney-general's office.

In a sign of the difficult relations in the new government, Zimbabwean state media on Saturday cast Tsvangirai's trip to Western capitals as "an assignment given by the president to the prime minister to undo sanctions he invited on the country" while in opposition.

Tsvangirai's spokesman James Maridadi said: "That is outright propaganda meant to cast the prime minister as a poodle and junior partner in the government.

"The prime minister's program is not defined by President Mugabe but the whole unity government and he is working in the best interests of all Zimbabweans."

in Bulgaria. AP