Image: Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and Finance Minister Tendai Biti
Philimon Bulawayo  /  Reuters
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, left, and Finance Minister and opposition leader Tendai Biti call for economic aid on Thursday.
updated 3/19/2009 6:01:25 PM ET 2009-03-19T22:01:25

President Robert Mugabe and a longtime opposition leader-turned-finance minister made an unusual joint appeal Thursday for $5 billion in international aid to revive Zimbabwe's shattered economy.

The two men presented an economic recovery program that scraps the stringent price controls which have fueled a black market and spiraling inflation. It also sets up "safety nets and social protection for vulnerable groups exposed to market forces," Finance Minister Tendai Biti said, without offering details.

The longtime opponents disagreed, however, over the causes of the country's economic meltdown.

Biti said Zimbabwe had to do its part by restoring democratic freedoms and the rule of law — and demanded that a new wave of seizures of white-owned farms in recent weeks blamed on Mugabe loyalists stop.

"For the economy to turn around, we need to have good governance. Our politics must be right," he told business leaders and government officials in Harare. "We are asking our international friends to help us."

Mugabe said economic recovery required foreign aid and the removal of Western economic sanctions.

'Please come to our aid'
"We wish to appeal to all those countries which wish us to succeed to support our national endeavor. Friends of Zimbabwe, please come to our aid," he said. "I appeal for the removal of your sanctions which are inhuman, cruel and unwarranted."

Britain, the former colonial power, the European Union and the United States insist their official sanctions — travel and visa restrictions on Mugabe and more than 200 of his party leaders, officials and loyalists — have little bearing on the country's economic crisis.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the current U.S. aid priority was to respond to Zimbabwe's humanitarian crisis.

The U.S. is awaiting evidence that Zimbabwe was "firmly and irrevocably on a path to inclusive and effective governance, and as well as respect for human rights and the rule of law," he said.

"But this government has to show more before we will consider ... removing any targeted sanctions or for putting together ... an aid package," Wood said.

Some whites have been driven violently from their properties, and homes and farms have been looted since Mugabe ordered a land redistribution campaign in 2000. The former regional breadbasket now faces chronic shortages of food, gasoline, basic goods, power and water. It also has the world's highest inflation rate by far.

International donors are already helping Zimbabwe cope with hunger and cholera crises. But, suspicious of Mugabe, they have hesitated to pour in development aid until they see that Biti's party has real authority in the new unity government.

In addition, the global financial crisis is likely to dampen the response. Last month, Biti appealed to Zimbabwe's neighbors in the Southern African Development Community for $2 billion (euro1.46 billion). The bloc promised to help but has not yet amid the economic downturn.

White farmers targeted
Private farm organizations say militants aided by police and troops have targeted at least 100 of some 400 farms remaining in the hands of white farmers this year.

Farmers "must be given security on their land and a chance to grow their crops," Biti said Thursday.

The finance minister presented a $1 billion budget to parliament Wednesday that sharply cut a $1.7 billion interim budget proposal by Mugabe's party in January, saying Zimbabwe must live within its means.

Mugabe signed a power-sharing deal with Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change Sept. 15 after disputed elections earlier that year. After protracted negotiations on the allocation of key ministries, the coalition was sworn in last month with Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980, remaining president and Tsvangirai taking the new post of prime minister.

Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe stood in for Tsvangirai at Thursday's presentation. Tsvangirai is recuperating in neighboring South Africa from injuries in a March 6 car accident that killed his wife of 31 years, Susan. He is expected to return shortly, party officials said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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