Opponent sworn in as prime minister by Mugabe

Posted in Africa | 12-Feb-09 | Author: Celia W. Dugger and Alan Cowel| Source: International Herald Tribune

Zimbabaweans greeting their new prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, at a rallly in Harare on Wednesday.

JOHANNESBURG: After months of violence, negotiation, pressure and reluctant compromise, the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in Wednesday as the prime minister of a Zimbabwe government in which his nemesis, President Robert Mugabe, still dominates the repressive state security forces.

The moment on the grounds of Zimbabwe's state house in Harare, once the seat of colonial power in the formerly British-run territory, brought an inconclusive and ambiguous end to almost 11 months of confrontation and wrangling. Tsvangirai had claimed victory in elections in March, only to be declared the loser in a discredited runoff in June that he boycotted because of political violence. Mugabe was the only other candidate.

"The road to this arrangement has not been easy," Mugabe said afterward, The Associated Press reported. "It has been a long and tedious road. But we hope and trust that we have put ourselves to a commitment of making this country work again."

But in a swipe at widespread human rights abuses in Zimbabwe under Mugabe's regime, Tsvangirai told thousands of supporters at a rally that "political violence must end today."

"We can no longer afford brother against brother because one happened to have a different political opinion," he said, according to news agencies. "I can assure that the culture of impunity and violation of human rights must end, and it must end today."

"It hurts that as we celebrate here today there are some who are in prison," he said, referring to his own detained supporters. "I can assure you that they are not going to remain in those dungeons for any day or any week longer."

In a ceremony Wednesday, Tsvangirai and Mugabe stood opposite one another in the shade of a white tent bedecked with flowers. As head of state, Mugabe personally took the oath of office from Tsvangirai - an exchange that might once have seemed an improbable outcome to their acrimonious struggle.

Invited to take the oath, Tsvangirai raised his right hand and declared that he would "well and truly serve Zimbabwe in the office of prime minister." Around 300 invited dignitaries and diplomats looked on and applauded as the two men briefly clasped hands. Mugabe said: "Congratulations." Tsvangirai offered Mugabe a fleeting smile.

Since the electoral crisis last year, Tsvangirai has been under pressure from neighboring countries led by South Africa, the regional power, to enter a government with Mugabe.

The rivals reached a formal compact to share power last September.

Despite that agreement, Mugabe and Tsvangirai fought a bitter political duel over control of key ministries, and the opposition leader failed to secure the influence he said he believed was his due.

Specifically, the two clashed over control over Zimbabwe's security forces. Finally, Tsvangirai dropped his demands for exclusive oversight of the police, agreeing to share control. Mugabe maintained his grip on other elements of the security forces, which provide crucial sinews of his power.

Tsvangirai agreed to join the new government late last month, bringing senior aides with him.

On Tuesday, Tsvangirai announced that he would name Tendai Biti, his party's secretary general, to serve as finance minister. Biti, who has frequently denounced Mugabe as a dictator whose disastrous economic policies have impoverished the nation, fought against joining a government with Mugabe within the Movement for Democratic Change, the party Tsvangirai leads. Only last week, a judge withdrew the treason charges against Biti that had been derided by civic groups and independent analysts as trumped up.

In a sign of Zimbabwe's unresolved political tensions - and of the authoritarian reflexes of Mugabe's government - the riot police broke up a peaceful demonstration Tuesday of about 600 members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, beating some of them and arresting eight women and two lawyers. One elderly woman screamed as she was beaten and thrown into a moving truck. The demonstrators handed out roses and Valentine's cards to onlookers.

The new government will usher in a different phase in the opposition's decade-long struggle against Mugabe, who is 84 years old.

Tsvangirai now faces the challenge of sharing control of the nation's police, reviving Zimbabwe's moribund economy and rescuing an increasingly famished, sick and impoverished population with a partner, Mugabe, whose security forces have viciously beaten Tsvangirai and thousands of his supporters over the past two years.

Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris.