12-05-2016  10:36 am      •     


HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) -- President Robert Mugabe and longtime political rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai sat side by side Saturday at a state funeral that was seen as a symbolic step for their parties' month-old coalition.
The funeral was for former defense forces commander and Mugabe loyalist Gen. Vitalis Zvinavashe and was Tsvangirai's first formal attendance at a shrine for fallen guerrillas and political leaders. Mugabe had attended Tuesday's funeral service for Tsvangirai's wife, Susan, who died in a car crash south of Harare a week ago.
Most of the nation's military commanders are ex-guerrillas of the independence war and have refused to salute Tsvangirai, a civilian and former labor leader who did not take part in that war.
At Saturday's funeral, commanders sat near the coalition politicians at Heroes Acre, a North Korean-built cemetery outside Harare, but only saluted Zvinavashe's casket while Mugabe and Tsvangirai watched.
The 85 year-old president gave an unusually brief and muted 50-minute eulogy for Zvinavashe.
Mugabe, who has frequently criticized Tsvangirai for his links with Western governments, also said the new coalition was "between us, brother to brother."
"Zimbabwe belongs to us. Let's walk the road that says no to the British and no to sanctions," Mugabe said. "Those who want to be our friends and partners are welcome. Let those who think they can use that road of friendship to domination, we say: No."
Zvinavashe, a top official in Mugabe's ZANU-PF party who trained as a guerrilla fighter a decade before independence in 1980, retired as overall commander of the defense forces in 2003.
Mugabe said Zvinavashe fought British colonialism in the struggle for independence from white rule.
"The fight was against the British and up to now it is still about them and their sanctions," Mugabe said.
Mugabe blames Western economic sanctions for the nation's economic meltdown, but critics point to the often violent seizures of white-owned farms since 2000, which disrupted the agriculture-based economy.
The president said some violence continued between rival political groups after years of political and economic turmoil that spurred violence blamed largely on Mugabe party militants against Tsvangirai's supporters, backed by police, the military and state agents.
"Let's stop the fighting in some places. Go and tell them we are united and to stop the fighting," he said.
The coalition government brokered by South Africa and regional leaders has appealed for $2 billion in regional and international funding to kickstart the shattered economy.
No funding package has been agreed by regional leaders or the African Development Bank after talks in neighboring South Africa.
Britain, the former colonial ruler, the United States and other Western nations argue the coalition agreement leaves too much power in Mugabe's hands and the resumption of aid and investment depends on future measures to restore democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

 

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