Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has hailed her Zimbabwean counterpart as a hero similar to democracy icons Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. Ms Gillard held talks with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in Canberra on Monday, describing the democracy champion as more than just a leader.
“You are a hero,” she told a Parliament House lunch in Mr Tsvangirai’s honour. “Like Nelson Mandela, like Aung San Suu Kyi, like Xanana Gusmao – you are one of the remarkable figures of our times,” she said, referring to the South African, Burmese and East Timorese political figures.
Mr Tsvangirai formed a power-sharing government with the country’s long-serving and controversial President Robert Mugabe in 2009. Before that, he led the political opposition to Mr Mugabe’s tumultuous and often violent rule. He endured repeated arrest and beatings throughout those years.
Mr Tsvangirai said his country had been through dark times, but with the help of Australia and the rest of the international community, it could be “rescued”. “Zimbabwe is ready to re-engage with the international community as a member of the international community, and not just as a pariah state,” he said.
Mr Tsvangirai wants Australia to suspend its longstanding sanctions against his nation, and scrap them altogether if next year’s scheduled elections run well. Trade Minister Craig Emerson said the government would listen to Mr Tsvangirai’s advice.
“If he indicates to us that there is a case for easing some sanctions, that is to reward the reformers and show the hardliners that reform does actually pay dividends, then we will be open to those sorts of arguments,” he told the ABC.
Australia imposed targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2002 in a bid to pressure Mr Mugabe and his regime to restore democracy and the rule of law. The government eased some sanctions in March, removing 82 regime loyalists from its financial and travel sanctions list.
But it maintains travel and financial sanctions against 153 individuals and four entities allied to Mr Mugabe. Prohibitions on arms sales and other defence links, plus a ban preventing adult children of listed individuals studying in Australia, also remain in force. AAP