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Zimbabwe's Tsvangirai Takes Long View on Power-Sharing Government

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Friday downplayed ongoing divisions in the national unity government he heads, saying that the principals in power-sharing are making progress on resolving issues still outstanding three months after the government was formed.

But Tsvangirai acknowledged in an exclusive interview with correspondent Benedict Nhlapho of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that setbacks to unity come at a cost in confidence.

"We are very satisfied with the performance of this government," Tsvangirai said, citing what he called "incremental gains" in reopening schools and hospitals, stabilizing prices, restocking store shelves across the country through import liberalization. "So Zimbabweans see this as a positive step and they are cautiously optimistic."

He acknowledged political difficulties. "The challenges are many, mostly economic, but there are also political challenges," Tsvangirai said. "You know that we still have outstanding issues which we have been discussing and (on) which we are making slow progress, but sometimes act as a damper to the confidence of the people because they see this as a reluctance on (the part of) some of the core signatories to implement the Global Political Agreement (signed in September 2008) and that affects the confidence" of Zimbabweans.

Tsvangirai referred only obliquely to the setback dealt to the unity government this week with the revocation of bail and re-arrest of 18 activists, mostly members of his formation of the Movement for Democratic Change, after their indictment on charges they conspired to overthrow the former government of President Robert Mugabe.

A spokesman for Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC grouping described the arrests as a breach of faith that cast doubt on the longevity of the power-sharing government. The attorney general and magistrate in question quickly backpedaled, releasing most of the activists and a spokesman for Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party said it was committed to the unity government.

Touching on the vexed question of continued takeovers of white commercial farms, which are undercutting the government's efforts to convince international donors that the rule of law is back in place in Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai said the takeovers reflect the strategy of a small group of individuals who oppose the government - but won't be allowed to block its program.

Tsvangirai said he anticipates a near-term solution to most, if not all the outstanding issues he has taken up with President Robert Mugabe in a recent series of discussions.

The former opposition leader, whose Movement for Democratic Change claimed a majority in parliament within a decade of its formation, likened the national unity government to a household in which there will always be issues - but which serves the nation.

"This is a marriage. In marriage there are ups and downs, and its how you manage your conflicts, how you manage your disagreements, and I can assure you that very shortly we will be making an announcement, because we have been talking," he said, referring to his recent talks with Mr. Mugabe on settling issues troubling the power-sharing arrangement.

Tsvangirai offered similar reflections in remarks Friday to an audience of exiled Zimbabweans at South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand.

"Don't be too paranoid about your obsession with Robert Mugabe because he isn't going to go away, he is there," Tsvangirai declared. "Robert Mugabe was part of the problem but he is also part of the solution, whether you like it or not."

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