The European Union on Monday extended travel and economic sanctions targeting Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle despite intense pressure from Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party for relaxation of the restrictions, reports said.
The Times of South Africa cited the South African Press Agency and Deutsche Presse Agentur as reporting that the restrictions were extended to February 20, 2011. It said the decision was formally adopted by European Union education and culture ministers who "rubber stamped a position formulated earlier by diplomats."
The sanctions were imposed in 2002 in response to allegations of human rights violations and the rigging of the presidential election that year.
The EU decision seems very likely to harden positions in Harare where intra-governmental talks on a power-sharing arrangement have stalled.
President Mugabe's former ruling ZANU-PF party in recent months has become more vocal in its demands that Western targeted sanctions on the president and his inner circle be lifted as a condition for progress in Harare.
At its December party congress, ZANU-PF resolved not to make further concessions in talks with the Movement for Democratic Change of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, its main partner in the Harare unity government, until such sanctions have been lifted with the help of MDC lobbying. The ZANU-PF politburo recently affirmed and hardened this position.
The standoff between ZANU-PF and the MDC over implementation of their 2008 power-sharing agreement deepened recently after British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Britain would take advice from the MDC in considering whether to back the lifting of EU sanctions.
ZANU-PF seized on this as firm evidence that the MDC was in a position to sway the West as to the removal of sanctions.