Mugabe welcomes EU delegation with 'open arms'

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The Independent Online

President Robert Mugabe welcomed the first top-level European Union delegation to visit Zimbabwe in seven years with "open arms" today and said he hoped for successful talks.

"We welcome you with open arms. We hope our talks will be fruitful with a positive outcome," he said.

Mugabe's positive tone may suggest he is more willing to cooperate with Western powers crucial to Zimbabwe's efforts to secure billions of dollars in aid and foreign investment.

The visit by EU Aid and Development Commissioner Karel De Gucht and the Swedish EU presidency is the first since the EU began targeted sanctions in 2002 against members of Mugabe's government for human rights violations.

The delegation is expected to hold talks with all parties including Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutumbara.

Zimbabwe says it needs $10 billion in foreign reconstruction aid, but Western nations are reluctant to release cash without further political and economic reform.

Mugabe and long-time opponent Tsvangirai formed a power-sharing government in February to end a political crisis that followed disputed polls last year.

But the accord has been beset with problems as the parties accuse each other of stalling the process by not fully implementing the agreement.

The EU remains the main overall donor to Zimbabwe, having provided 572 million euros ($829 million) in humanitarian aid to the country since 2002, despite the targeted sanctions.

To date, 203 people and 40 companies linked to the Mugabe government face travel and some financial restrictions within the bloc.

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