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Page last updated at 13:27 GMT, Friday, 6 February 2009

Mugabe to sign unity deal bill

Robert Mugabe
African leaders have persuaded Robert Mugabe to share power

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is due to sign into law a constitutional amendment allowing his rival Morgan Tsvangirai to become prime minister.

It paves the way for the men to share power, as agreed last September.

Meanwhile, a judge has dismissed treason charges against a key opposition MDC figure, removing another obstacle to forming a unity government.

The MDC also wants all of its jailed supporters and activists to be freed before Mr Tsvangirai takes office.

He is due to be sworn in next Wednesday, 11 February, with Mr Mugabe remaining as president.

Last week, southern African leaders, who have been mediating the deal, persuaded Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to join a unity administration despite their concerns over Zanu-PF's commitment to sharing power.

If you look at the suffering of our people, I think this was the only way to go
MDC's Innocent Gonese

Correspondents say the judge's decision to dismiss Tendai Biti's treason case could be a sign that Zanu-PF wants the proposed coalition government to work.

Magistrate Olivia Mariga ruled he had been improperly arrested.

But state prosecutors can still revive the case by issuing a summons.

Mr Biti, who is the MDC's secretary-general and was the party's chief negotiator of the power-sharing deal, was arrested in June.

He was accused of announcing March's presidential poll result before the official electoral body, which took more than a month to make its announcement, as well as publishing false statements and insulting the president. The MDC says the official results were rigged.

The months of wrangling between Zanu-PF and MDC centred on how the most powerful cabinet posts were to be shared out - especially that of the Home Affairs, which controls the police, and will now be a shared ministry.

We will respect property rights
Zanu-PF's Bright Matonga
Zimbabwean political analyst John Makumbe told the BBC a key objective of the new administration will be to draw up a new constitution - within 12 to 18 months.

This would need to be passed by a referendum before new elections.

But before that, he said, negotiators still had to work out the allocation of governors and the setting up of a National Security Council.

"I'm giving this marriage a chance, because it has the potential of succeeding if the people involved realise the hardships the people of Zimbabwe are experiencing and decide in favour of the people's welfare," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

"It also gives the MDC an opportunity to slowly and incrementally nudge Zanu-PF and Robert Mugabe out of office."

Investors invited

The unity government is intended to ease Zimbabwe's economic meltdown but this will be largely dependent on the restoration of foreign aid and investment.

Donors say they will only resume aid when the government is working properly and they see powers are being shared.

Morgan Tsvangirai
Morgan Tsvangirai was a union leader before forming the MDC
Zimbabwe's parliament unanimously approved the constitutional amendment - in a rare show of unity - on Thursday.

The chief whip of the main faction of the opposition MDC, Innocent Gonese, said the party had no choice.

"If you look at the state of our economy, if you look at the suffering of our people, I think this was the only way to go," he told the BBC.

"But I believe that this is just a beginning. Obviously there are going to be some difficulties ahead, but I think that if we all put Zimbabwe first, before we put our heads together, I believe that we can overcome all the difficulties."

Zimbabwe's Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga called for investors to return.

"We will respect property rights; we will respect the issue of declaration and repatriation of dividends," he said.

"So really we are inviting people in manufacturing, in tourism, in farming, in mining."

Many investors have pulled out of Zimbabwe over the government's seizure of white-owned farms since 2000.

Mr Mugabe's critics say this triggered Zimbabwe's economic collapse, although the president blames Western sanctions.

Zimbabwe has stopped publishing annual inflation figures - the most recent, from July 2008, were 231 million per cent.

As a result, the currency is rapidly losing its value. The government last week announced that it would accept the use of foreign currencies, such as the US dollar and the South African rand, which were already widely used on the black market.

Donors say more than half of the population needs food aid.

An outbreak of cholera, fuelled by the collapse of infrastructure, has now infected nearly 66,000 people and killed more than 3,300.

Mr Tsvangirai won the first round of presidential elections last March, but pulled out of a run-off against Mr Mugabe in June, citing state-sponsored violence against his supporters.

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