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Zimbabwe Law Reforms Go Ahead

As of last Friday, Zimbabwean citizens who are also journalists no longer need accreditation or a license to work in their profession. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA that a number of amendments to existing security, media and electoral regulations have become law.

The laws that published last Friday were a result of eight months of South African facilitated negotiations between the ruling Zanu PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Under the revised regulations, Zimbabwean journalists no longer have to be accredited. If they want a license they can apply, and if granted they could cover events inside the legislature and at State House. But if they choose not to seek accreditation they can no longer be prosecuted as criminals for working in their profession.

Foreign journalists will have to apply to a media commission in some cases, but that commission has not yet been set up.

The previous media laws saw scores of journalists arrested and newspapers closed down in the last five years.

Analysts say the amendments put the clock back to early 2000, before President Mugabe realized that the then new opposition party, the MDC could use the issues to score points against his ruling Zandu PF in elections.

MDC founding legal secretary David Coltart said Sunday that the amendments just published were an "improvement" to the law, but he called the changes "insufficient. In any event, he said, there was not enough time between now and the upcoming elections for them to have much affect on the polls.

President Mugabe, who is vacationing in Thailand, said he wants the elections in March and will be the candidate for Zanu PF.

Negotiators from the MDC and Zanu PF were returning to Harare after two days of negotiations mediated by President Thabo Mbeki, who had been trying to break a deadlock. The talks stalled in December on two issues: the most important that a new constitution, already agreed to, would be in operation before the next elections, and the second is the timing of the elections.

The MDC says the elections need to be delayed beyond March to allow the reforms and the new constitution to take root among the electorate.

The MDC maintains it only agreed to support a constitutional amendment in September because of assurances that President Mugabe had agreed that a new constitution would be in place before the elections. The president has made it clear that this will not be the case.

An African diplomat monitoring the Zimbabwe crisis, but who asked not to be identified, says President Mbeki has been trying very hard to unblock the deadlock and remained reasonably confident he could do so.