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Harare Residents: Too Early to Lift International Restrictions

This week in London British Prime Minister Gordon Brown rejected a proposal from South Africa's Jacob Zuma to soften travel and financial restrictions against President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle. Mr. Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party charge that the measures are holding back the country's economic recovery. Many people in the streets of Harare say the restrictions should remain until there is more political progress.

Almost uniformly people going about their business in Harare told VOA international restrictions against Mr. Mugabe and senior members of ZANU-PF should remain.

Bhekitemba Sibanda, a stationary salesman in Central Harare, is one of many in the city who expressed support for the Movement for Democratic Change. He tells VOA the restrictive measures were introduced because of widespread violence against Mr. Mugabe's opponents after he failed to win the first round presidential poll in 2008.

"Those sanctions were imposed specifically because the motive was to bring sanity in a government that had gone berserk terrorizing its own people subverting its own constitution," he said.

Sibanda believe the restrictions need to remain until there is greater progress in fully implementing the agreement that brought the unity government.

Isaac Chideme, a former policeman, said the measure would be lifted when all three parties which signed a political agreement in September 2008 agreed sufficient progress had been made.

"The Americans and the Europeans, they said we want to see progress on the ground and if there is progress on the ground, what are you afraid of because they invited us when we have progress we invite you three parties, you three come to Europe and tell us you have progress," he said.

Mr. Mugabe says ZANU-PF has complied with all demands of the political agreement, and says the U.S. and European sanctions are standing in the way of any further progress.

But Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and other civil rights groups say the level of repression in Zimbabwe is rising.

The lawyers offered examples of several civil rights activists who have recently been arrested when they tried to hold meetings in areas which have traditionally been ZANU-PF strongholds. They also point to trades union leaders forced to hide and flee Zimbabwe to avoid arrest.

The International Crisis Group, or ICG, says Zimbabwe is in danger of returning to the collapsed state it was in prior to establishment of a unity government a year ago.

ICG said ZANU-PF and its security establishment maintain what the Brussels-based group calls an intransigent stance on reforms for political stability. It said a relatively small number of officials, motivated by fear of losing power, wealth and impunity, oppose reforms.

On Wednesday President Robert Mugabe, now 86, said he was available for re-election. The next election, after a new constitution is completed, is scheduled to take place next year.

Mr. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change charges that constitution writing is being delayed by obstructions put in the way of progress by ZANU-PF.

Mr. Mugabe also blames EU and US restrictions for the failed economy and says it is up to Mr. Tsvangirai to get them removed.

Harare salesman Sibanda points out that the Movement for Democratic Change has no power to impose or lift EU and U.S. restrictions against the ZANU-PF hierarchy.

"So-called smart sanctions were imposed by independent governments. It is their own institutions that influence such decisions," he said.

Zimbabwe's economy, which briefly revived after the inclusive government was formed, is stagnant now, according to economists and industry executives.

There is little domestic investment and almost no foreign investment. And, inflation - according to retailers - is now moving towards 20 percent.