Mugabe calls for fresh start with West

President Robert Mugabe has called for a new start to relations with those Western countries he has spent years insulting for their criticism of his leadership.

"Our country remains in a positive stance to enter into fresh, friendly and co-operative relations with all those countries that have been hostile to us in the past," he said yesterday at the first sitting of parliament since a unity government was formed with the former opposition in February.

The 85-year-old leader who has ruled Zimbabwe for nearly three decades agreed to share power with the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai after disputed elections last year.

Mr Mugabe said Zimbabwe's "re-engagement" with Europe was "gathering momentum".

He did not back down from his insistence that sanctions, which he claims have been illegally imposed by Western nations, must be lifted. He has blamed the punitive measures for the country's economic woes. His party has said Mr Tsvangirai is not doing enough to get them lifted.

"Together in the inclusive government let us build the bridges of amity, forgiveness, trust and togetherness, and be united in body, mind and spirits as Zimbabweans," he said.

Mr Mugabe's reconciliatory comments are unusual for the leader who is known to level colourful and often personal insults at Western leaders, but he is under pressure to meet demands for political and economic reform and there have been recent signs of co-operation. Terror charges against nine human rights activists have been dropped and work is being done to draw up a new constitution.