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Zimbabwe PM Tsvangirai Lobbies Region for Backing on Unity Gov't Issues

Zimbabwean Prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai on Tuesday stepped up regional diplomacy on Tuesday meeting Botswanan President Ian Khama in Gaborone following talks Monday with South African President Jacob Zuma on issues troubling Harare's unity government.

Sources in Mr. Tsvangirai's office said that in the days ahead he will be meeting other leaders of the Southern African Development Community, of which Mr. Zuma is now chairman. They said Mr. Tsvangirai hopes to resolve outstanding issues before Mr. Zuma's tenure ends in September, when he will hand off the chairmanship at a SADC summit.

Current SADC Vice Chairman Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo and a close ally of President Robert Mugabe, is in line to takeover the chairmanship.

But sources in SADC say this succession is not entirely automatic, and in light of conflict in the eastern Congo, some might urge Kabila to recuse himself or be passed over.

Tsvangirai spokesman James Maridadi told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the prime minister updated Mr. Khama on conditions in the unity government and is likely to widen consultations with other SADC leaders.

Some of the outstanding issues dividing Zimbabwe's governing partners - Mr. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF and a smaller formation of the MDC headed by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara - have been resolved, for instance the naming of MDC provincial governors and ambassadors, breaking a ZANU-PF monopoly.

But other issues have been intractable and new issues have come to the for.

The MDC has long sought the replacement of Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and Attorney General Johannes Tomana, reappointed or appointed for the first time by Mr. Mugabe in late 2008 without consulting the MDC despite a power-sharing pact.

More recently, however, the MDC focus has shifted to the increasing number of the party’s lawmakers arrested, prosecuted, and in a number of cases convicted and sentenced to prison terms in excess of six months, putting their parliamentary seats at risk.

London-based human rights lawyer and political analyst Dewa Mavhinga said engaging regional leaders is a sound strategic move by Mr.Tsvangirai.

In other political developments, Deputy Youth minister Thamsanqa Mahlangu, arrested last week on charges that he stole a cellphone from war veterans leader Joseph Chinotimba, was released late Monday on US$50 bail after state prosecutors lowered objections. His assistant, Malvern Chadamoyo, accused in the same alleged theft, was also released.

Attorney Charles Kwaramba told reporter Brenda Moyo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the case will be back in court on August 12.

Elsewhere, a trial date of September 7th was set in the case of Kwekwe lawmaker Blessing Chebundo, who faces accusations he raped a 13-year-old girl.

Gweru Magistrate William Bhila set the date after Chebundo’s lawyers agreed witnesses in the case could not be brought before the court in the three days left this week.

Prosecutors concurred, disclosing that the state and the defense had agreed to a “marathon trial,” meaning the case would be heard over the course of a full week.

Regional magistrate Bhila took over the case after the originally assigned magistrate recused himself at the request of the defense team for reasons not disclosed.

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