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HARARE - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party on Friday criticised the European Union's decision to maintain sanctions against the country's leadership and accused it of trying to topple its veteran leader.
The EU's 27 member states extended an arms embargo and a freeze on development aid to Zimbabwe on Friday for another six months, saying they wanted deep political reforms and prospects for credible and peaceful elections before lifting them.
They did, however, remove a third of the people from the list of those affected by asset freezes and visa bans and lifted a prohibition on European companies doing business with 20 Zimbabwean entities.
Zanu-PF chief party spokesman Rugare Gumbo said the EU should scrap all sanctions, calling them “illegal” and blaming them for damaging Zimbabwe's economy.
“The whole sanctions regime is illegal and racist, and we are not going to celebrate decisions meant to patronise us while they act as lords over our political affairs,” he told Reuters.
“It's very tragic that the EU is still being used by some of its members, principally Britain, in pursuing a neo-colonial agenda to remove Zanu-PF from power.”
Mugabe, who turns 88 next week and has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980, and other Zanu-PF members were hit with sanctions 10 years ago in response to suspected mass human rights violations and vote rigging.
Analysts say the sanctions have been exploited by Mugabe for his political purposes, blaming them for his party's economic blunders that have caused what once was one of Africa's richest nations to now be among its poorest.
Mugabe, who was forced into a coalition government with rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai after disputed elections in 2008, accuses the EU of backing Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Friday's decision by EU governments means 51 Zimbabweans are removed from sanctions list of people whose assets were frozen and who were not allowed visas to travel to the EU.
Another 112 individuals, including Mugabe, and 11 entities will stay on the list. These people are seen as undermining democracy, human rights and the rule of law, said one of the diplomats.
Zimbabwe's foreign and justice ministers have their visa bans suspended so that they can take part in talks with the EU.
“The EU ... welcomes progress made towards the creation of a conducive environment for the holding of free, fair, peaceful and transparent elections,” the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said in a statement.
She said the EU was open to serious political dialogue with Zimbabwe. But while acknowledging that “the overall situation in Zimbabwe has improved”, she said further reforms were necessary.
“The EU remains ready to reconsider the measures at any time in response to concrete progress in the implementation of the GPA (a power-sharing agreement) and the preparation of credible and peaceful elections.”
The MDC refused to comment on the sanctions.
“That issue is between Zanu-PF and the EU, and we don't want to get involved because it will give ZANU-PF a platform for more propaganda,” an MDC spokesman said. – Reuters