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Following House, Zimbabwe Senate Dispatches Package Of Reform Amendments

Four legislative acts effecting sweeping changes in Zimbabwe's security, media and electoral laws sailed through the senate on Wednesday with bipartisan support as a promising spinoff of the crisis talks mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community.

But some opposition officials said the package of reforms comes too late in the game to ensure that the national elections which President Robert Mugabe has insisted must be held in March will be free and fair. And civil society groups and members of the media voiced skepticism the amendments fundamentally change things.

Parliament's lower house on Tuesday passed the bills amending the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Broadcasting Services Act and recent legislation concerning the country’s electoral system.

Ruling ZANU-PF party insiders said an economic implosion and international isolation have forced hardliners in the party to accept if not embrace reform. But they warned that it will take years before many in the party accept thorough-going changes.

Chief Whip Innocent Gonese of the Movement for Democratic Change faction headed by MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that while further reform is needed, these changes are welcome.

But Legal Affairs Secretary David Coltart of the rival MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara said that while the amendments reflect what has been agreed in the crisis talks in Pretoria, they come too late to have a major impact on the elections.

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