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Zimbabwe Legislators Voice Regret At Termination Of USAID Program

Members of Zimbabwe's parliament said Monday that they regretted a decision by the Harare government to pull the plug on an eight-year-old program under which the U.S. Agency for International Development was supporting parliamentary committees.

The Harare government charged that the USAID program was part of a U.S. effort to discredit the government of President Robert Mugabe and to induce regime change. Government officials cited language in a recent U.S. State Department report on human rights activities in Zimbabwe, among many other countries.

That report that U.S. rights programs sought to maintain pressure on the Zimbabwean government , but did not say that regime change was the objective.

The report, entitled "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy," said that, "The U.S. strategy for fostering human rights and democracy in [Zimbabwe] is three-fold: to maintain pressure on the Mugabe regime; to strengthen democratic forces, and to provide humanitarian aid for those left vulnerable by poor governance."

Regarding the USAID program, it stated that "a U.S.-sponsored program to strengthen parliamentary committees resulted in increased debate in parliament - both from opposition and reform-minded ZANU-PF parliamentarians - and encouraged greater transparency through public hearings on legislation."

Official sources told VOA that the decision caused tension in the government. Justice They said Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma and ZANU-PF Chief Whip Joram Gumbo resisted the move, but were overruled by cabinet ministers backed by Cabinet Secretary Misheck Sibanda and George Charamba, a government spokesman and Information Ministry permanent secretary.

The government recently took umbrage at another passage in the same document saying that "the U.S. Government continued to support the efforts of the political opposition, the media and civil society to create and defend democratic space and to support persons who criticized the government."

The parliamentary program, implemented by the State University of New York, was intended to strengthen committees, promote debate by opposition and reform-minded ruling party legislators, and increase transparency, the U.S. report said.

Analysts said Harare in terminating the program sought to divert attention from the country’s crisis and justify an ongoing crackdown on the opposition.

Harare has repeatedly accused Washington of working with the opposition to topple President Mugabe, a charge both the opposition and Washington have denied.

ZANU-PF Chief Whip Gumbo told Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he and others were not pleased with statements from Washington which Harare took as evidence that USAID's assistance was aimed at bringing regime change.

Parliamentary Public Accounts Chairwoman Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change faction led by Arthur Mutambara said that USAID and the State University of New York had been very helpful.

Chief Whip Innocent Gonese of the MDC faction headed by by Morgan Tsvangirai said Harare is making propaganda at the expense of parliament's good work.

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