Zimbabwe minister complains of Obama bias

Obama and TsvangiraiThe warm Western welcome Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has been receiving is rankling some of his governing partners, state media reported Monday.

Tsvangirai is on a three-week trip through Europe and the U.S. that included a meeting with President Barack Obama last week.

His coalition partner, Zimbabwe’s longtime ruler Robert Mugabe, is barred by travel restrictions from visiting the stops on Tsvangirai’s itinerary, and the leaders with whom the premier has had cordial talks accuse Mugabe of trampling on democracy and ruining a once vibrant economy.

Zimbabwe’s state-run Herald newspaper reported there were concerns among some officials aligned to Mugabe over Obama’s reference to building a new partnership not with the coalition government as a whole, but with Tsvangirai, a former opposition leader who has been beaten and jailed by Mugabe’s regime.

Tsvangirai and Mugabe formed their coalition in February, pressed by neighbors to end violent political confrontation and cooperate to address their country’s economic crisis. The political marriage of convenience has been rocky from the start, and Western leaders say progress toward reform has been slow.

After meeting Tsvangirai on Friday in Washington, Obama praised the premier for persevering in trying to lead Zimbabwe out of a “very dark and difficult period.” Obama accused Mugabe of resisting democracy.

The Herald quoted Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi, a Mugabe appointee, as accusing Obama of being “overtly biased” and lacking “diplomatic courtesy.”

Tsvangirai has said his three-week trip is aimed at re-engaging with the West, while officials linked to Mugabe have tried to portray it as an attempt to persuade the international community to lift sanctions.

Tsvangirai started in the Netherlands and the U.S., where officials demanded more progress on reforms by the coalition before aid and investment could resume. Tsvangirai was headed to Britain, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden and Belgium.

State radio in Zimbabwe reported over the weekend that Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, another Mugabe appointee, had planned his own outreach visit with EU officials in hopes of discussing normalizing relations, but was told Tsvangirai should take the lead.

The EU said Monday it was unaware of any plans for a meeting with Mumbengegwi, while talks with Tsvangirai Thursday and Friday had been scheduled for weeks. EU spokesman John Clancy said it was too early to put normalization on the agenda.

The talks will focus on hearing out the Zimbabwe premier and how the unity government intends to meet commitments to reform and turn the country around, Clancy said.

Clancy says the EU remains ready to offer more humanitarian aid but wants to see “good progress” made by the unity government before any decision can be made to lift sanctions.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.