After being sworn in as Zimbabwe’s prime minister on Wednesday, Morgan Tsvangirai spent his first full day in office visiting political prisoners that he wishes to see freed from a jail near the country’s capital, Harare. (photo, from bbc.co.uk)
Although the prisoners received no promises of release, the prime minister told them their cases would be processed more quickly, his spokesman said.
Mr Tsvangirai was sworn in as PM by long-time rival President Robert Mugabe. And on Friday, their coalition government’s cabinet is due to be sworn in.
But, the president has not yet revealed his choices for the portfolios set aside for his Zanu-PF party under the power-sharing accord.
After his inauguration ceremony, Mr Tsvangirai said in a speech that he wanted political prisoners freed immediately.
His spokesman, Joseph Mungwari, said that on Thursday, the prime minister spent 45 minutes with 16 prisoners linked to his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party.
They have been accused of subversion and recruiting fighters to overthrow Mr Mugabe – charges denied by the MDC.
Mr Mungwari said that no assurances of release were obtained during the visit to the maximum-security prison near Harare.
But later, Mr Tsvangirai said that the cases would be expedited and the law would take its course.
After Mr Tsvangirai’s visit, three other detainees, including Jestina Mukoko, a prominent human rights activist held since December, were taken from prison for medical examinations at a private clinic in Harare, their lawyers told the AP news agency.
The three needed urgent hospitalisation, said Irene Petras, head of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
Earlier, Mr Tsvangirai had said he would refuse to become prime minister until his jailed supporters and activists were freed.
Also on Thursday, Mr Tsvangirai also held talks with leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) on Thursday.
The group, as well as other independent organisations, had wanted fresh elections rather than power-sharing.
Labour groups saw the unity government as a “transitional arrangement” leading to fresh, free and fair elections, said ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo.
“We shall see how it works”, he said, adding that workers would strike if they were not satisfied with the Tsvangirai-Mugabe government.
After ruling Zimbabwe for 28 years, Mr Mugabe has promised to co-operate in the unity government.
The fate of political prisoners will be seen as a test of whether the two men’s parties can work together, say correspondents.
According to analysts, even though Mr Mugabe has yet to appoint his party’s ministers, the new unity government seems certain to create strange bedfellows with MDC members working alongside their former Zanu-PF adversaries.
In January, after Mr Tsvangirai returned to Zimbabwe following an absence of more than two months for fresh talks with Mr Mugabe, a final deal on power-sharing was reached.
Zimbabwe faces rampant inflation, a cholera epidemic and at least 90% unemployment.