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In Strasbourg, Zimbabwe PM-Designate Tsvangirai Seeks EU Assistance

Zimbabwean prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai on Monday urged European leaders to boost humanitarian assistance to his impoverished and increasingly hungry country instead of ratcheting up sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle.

Tsvangirai told European Union officials gathered in Strasbourg for a development conference that that although power-sharing negotiations between his Movement for Democratic Change and Mr. Mugabe's long-ruling ZANU-PF have stalled, agreement could yet be reached.

Tsvangirai was warmly received at the European Development Days conference. EU Commissioner Louis Michel said he was "delighted" Tsvangirai began a European diplomatic tour with the conference in Strasbourg, a base for the European Parliament.

"The humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe is multifaceted and so our response needs to be the same providing not only humanitarian assistance but also essential assistance for health and education projects," a European Commission statement quoted Michel as saying.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner praised Tsvangirai's "obstinacy" and pledged the aid of France "so that justice prevails and development follows."

Tsvangirai's spokesman, George Sibotshiwe, told VOA that the prime minister-designate met with Michel on Saturday, at which time the EU commissioner promised more aid.

Sibotshiwe said Tsvangirai would also brief French President Nicholas Sarkozi, now chairman of the EU, on the troubled Zimbabwean power-sharing negotiations.

ZANU-PF sources said President Mugabe was not pleased at Tsvangirai's European initiative and wanted to know how he traveled to Europe without a passport. Harare's refusal to provide Tsvangirai with a replacement passport has been an issue in the negotiations. Sibotshiwe said African and European officials had been understanding and helpful on that point.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted ZANU-PF information official Christopher Mutsvangwa, a former ambassador to China, as saying the Harare government hoped Tsvangirai's efforts were "directed towards the international normalization" of relations - meaning towards the lifting of EU and other Western targeted sanctions.

Tsvangirai spokesman Sibotshiwe told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Tsvangirai's initiative reflects his concern for the people.

Political analyst and University of Zimbabwe Professor John Makumbe said Tsvangirai's trip is sure to infuriate Harare, but that he should be applauded for his humanitarian effort.

Meanwhile, a Zimbabwean pro-democracy war veterans group took issue with South African President Kgalema Motlanthe and the Southern African Development Community for failing to break the impasse between Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai's MDC.

The Zimbabwe Liberation Veterans Forum said SADC's failure to resolve the stand-off shows the bloc is not serious enough about ending the Zimbabwe crisis. The forum said school children would have come up with a better solution than the SADC leadership.

Veterans Forum Secretary Wilfred Mhanda told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that the only solution to resolving the stand-off is to hold internationally monitored elections.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...