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Zimbabwe seeks urgent African aid

Zimbabwean PM Morgan Tsvangirai at a news conference in Harare, Zimbabwe, on 25 February 2009
PM Morgan Tsvangirai said last week Zimbabwe needed $5bn (3.5bn)

Zimbabwe has asked southern African countries for $2bn (1.4bn) to rescue its collapsed economy, says South Africa's finance minister.

Trevor Manuel told South African radio that Zimbabwe had said the money was urgently needed to revive public services and the business sector.

Aid to Zimbabwe is top of the agenda as Southern African Development Community (Sadc) finance ministers meet.

It came as President Mugabe called power-sharing an "interim arrangement".

Mr Manuel said Zimbabwe wanted half the money for emergencies in education, health and municipal services, while the other half would be ploughed into kick-starting the retail and other sectors.

But as the two-day summit began on Thursday in Cape Town, local people expressed concern as to whether their country could afford the aid burden, says the BBC's Mohammed Allie in the city.

He points out that South Africa has recently lost thousands of jobs, particularly in the mining, clothing and motor car industry.

And reliance on commodity exports has severely hurt southern Africa's economies as demand for raw materials plunges in the global financial downturn.

'Fresh elections'

Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said last week it would cost as much as $5bn (3.5bn) to fix Zimbabwe's economy.

Western donors have made it clear money will pour in only when the new power-sharing government shows evidence of effective and inclusive governance.

President Robert Mugabe
President Mugabe refused to budge on his appointments for top posts
The new administration urgently needs to tackle an economic meltdown that has led to the world's highest inflation, food shortages and a cholera epidemic.

In an interview with state media on Thursday, President Robert Mugabe said fresh elections could be held in two years' time.

The 85-year-old told the Herald newspaper that the new unity government was a temporary solution until the parties could agree on a new constitution, to be followed by polls.

"We are an interim arrangement. We are not a permanent inclusive government," the 85-year-old said.

Mr Mugabe also refused to back down on his decision to re-appoint central bank governor Gideon Gono for another five years.

The move, along with other controversial top appointments, has been decried by Mr Tsvangirai's former opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

But the veteran president refused to budge, telling the Herald: "I don't see any reason why those people should go and they will not go."

There have been further signs of strain in the fledgling administration over the continued detention of political detainees.

Mr Tsvangirai complained on Wednesday that the country's attorney general was blocking the release of about 30 activists, including MDC ministerial nominee Roy Bennett.

The prime minister was sworn in two weeks ago in a unity government with Mr Mugabe, ending months of deadlock following disputed elections last year.

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