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Zimbabwe's Mugabe Links Economic Recovery to Kimberly OK on Marange Diamonds

President Mugabe accused Britain and other countries of undermining the national unity government and conspiring to block Harare's efforts to sell diamonds from the controversial Marange field to fund economic recovery

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, reopening Parliament on Tuesday, said the unity government has made considerable progress since 2009b despite what he called undermining by the country's detractors, charging that efforts to leverage diamond resources were being countered by parties hostile to the nation.

VOA Studio 7 correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported from Harare.

President Mugabe in his remarks anticipated the policy review speech by Finance Minister Tendai Biti coming up Wednesday, saying projections for 2010 growth have been reduced to 5.4 percent from 7.7 percent earlier.

Mr. Mugabe tied the country’s economic plight to the Kimberly Process deliberations on whether to certify diamonds from Marange. He said the country will sell them with or without the blessing of the Kimberly Process.

Government sources said a showdown may be looming between Mr. Mugabe and Biti, secretary general of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s formation of the Movement for Democratic Change.

Political sources said Biti will urge compliance by Harare with Kimberly standards, resolution of ongoing litigation as to claims, and an end to judicial pursuit of Marange diamonds whistle-blower Farai Maguwu.

The response to Mr. Mugabe’s speech split along party lines – praise from ZANU-PF MPs and reservations by MDC parliamentarians. ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that Mr Mugabe’s speech was inspired. MDC lawmaker Thabitha Khumalo said Mr. Mugabe is out of touch with reality.

Economic analyst Lance Mambondiani says Mr Mugabe’s growth forecast is realistic.

Mr. Mugabe’s comments about diamonds came as the World Diamond Council gathered for its annual meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, with a Kimberly Process mini-summit set for Wednesday.

Sources close to the meeting said influential industry figures are recommending Zimbabwe be allowed to sell its rough diamonds though members were divided when they met a few weeks ago in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Russia, Happison Muchechetere, urged participants to put aside “political agendas” and clear the way for the sale of diamonds, maintaining that a continued ban would hurt ordinary people.

World Diamond Council President Eli Izhakoff told the annual meeting that some companies digging diamonds in Marange could be cleared during the mini-summit.

But Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition regional coordinator Dewa Mavhinga said the Kimberly Process must ensure tight mechanisms are in place in Marange if it proceeds to certify diamonds from the troubled zone, where major human rights abuses are alleged to have been committed by military forces controlling the area.

Speaking ahead of Biti's mid-term fiscal policy review, ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo said the minister should adopt his policy positions in full knowledge that no donor funding has been forthcoming, arguing that the government should speak with one voice on the need to sell the Marange diamonds.

Gumbo said that Biti in his 2010 budget anticipated US$810 million in donor funds, but that of this projected funding only US$2.9 million or less than one percent was made available by Western nations.

"As ZANU PF we have always maintained that the solution to end our economic woes and checkmating the illegal sanctions lie in the full exploitation of our natural resources, including the Chiadzwa diamonds," Gumbo said in a statement released late Tuesday.

"We have always said that the Chiadzwa diamonds are a strategic national asset and one of the achievements of our national land reclamation program. We therefore expect Finance Minister Biti to make the right pronouncements in his Mid-Term Fiscal Policy Review Statement," Gumbo's statement said.