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Zimbabwe: Prime minister denounces Mugabe

Criticism expected to strengthen US resolve to maintain sanctions.

Zimbabwe prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai
Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai denounced President Robert Mugabe on Thursday. Here Tsvangirai speaks to a group of supporters. (Desmond Kwande/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — Voicing “disgust” with President Robert Mugabe for his “betrayal” of Zimbabwe’s coalition government, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai Thursday announced his MDC party will not recognize a string of senior appointments.

Tsvangirai’s action threatens Zimbabwe’s already shaky power-sharing government. His criticism will strengthen the resolve of the United States and European donors to maintain sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle.

Charging that Mugabe broke the power-sharing agreement and Zimbabwe’s constitution by making key appointments without any consultation, Tsvangirai said he will stay in the government but he and his party will not cooperate with Mugabe’s appointees.

"We will refuse to recognize any of the appointments which the president has made illegally and unconstitutionally over the past 18 months," said Tsvangirai at a press conference in Harare.

The disputed appointments include the central bank governor, the attorney general, five High Court and Supreme Court judges, six ambassadors, the police service commission and 10 provincial governors, who were re-appointed last week.

Mugabe did not respond immediately to Tsvangirai’s statement, but Zimbabwe’s state-owned press acts as ther president’s mouthpiece and is expected to launch a vitriolic attack on the prime minister.

Tsvangirai also accused Mugabe of racism for refusing to swear into office Roy Bennett, who has been appointed Deputy Minister of Agriculture. Bennett, a senior Tsvangiral ally, was recently acquitted of treason, but Mugabe has adamantly denied Bennett his office.

"The matter of Roy Bennett has now become a personal vendetta and part of a racist agenda," Tsvangirai said. Bennett, a white farmer whose land was violently seized by Mugabe, is wildly popular amongst Tsvangirai’s black supporters, something that infuriates Mugabe.

Tsvangirai said his decision not to do business with Mugabe’s senior appointees throws Zimbabwe’s fragile coalition government into a “constitutional crisis.” He urged the leaders of neighboring states to press Mugabe to reform.

Tsvangirai called on the leaders of the Southern African Development Community, a 15-nation regional bloc, to pressure Mugabe to abide by the agreement that formed the coalition government. The SADC leaders pressed Tsvangirai to share power with Mugabe 18 months ago, after a disputed election in which Tsvangirai won more votes than Mugabe in the first round. Now Tsvangirai is asking them to put pressure on Mugabe.

For a year Tsvangirai, 58, has diplomatically avoided attacking Mugabe, 86, in the hopes that the two rival leaders could govern together. Tsvangirai even voiced some praise for the veteran Mugabe’s leadership in the fight against white minority Rhodesia.