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Obama offers limited support for Zimbabwe's PM

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama sought to bolster Zimbabwe's prime ministerFriday while withholding support for his coalition government.

Photos: President Barack Obama meets with Zimbabwean Prime Minister

Following a White House meeting, Morgan Tsvangirai said he had aproductive visit. Still, he is leaving with only a promise of $73million in conditional aid, a very small figure compared to thescope of Zimbabwe's problems.

In a joint appearance, Obama made clear he is not persuaded thatTsvangirai can turn the country around in partnership withPresident Robert Mugabe, who has been accused of human rightsabuse, corruption and government mismanagement that has left hiscountry impoverished.

Obama said the aid would not go to the government directly.

"We continue to be concerned about consolidating democracy, humanrights, and rule of law, but it will be going directly to thepeople in Zimbabwe and I think can be of assistance to the primeminister in his efforts," he said.

Obama praised Tsvangirai for bravery and for limited success inreforming the country.

"Overall, in a very difficult circumstance, we've seen progressfrom the prime minister. We are grateful to him," he said.

But the United States and other Western countries have beenskeptical of the coalition government Tsvangirai joined inFebruary, noting ongoing abuses.

During his three-week tour of the West, Tsvangirai has argued thatZimbabwe has made progress and has defended Mugabe, who Tsvangiraiacknowledges had him beaten and nearly killed while in opposition.In a press appearance after his meeting with Obama, Tsvangirai saidthat he now enjoys a functional, working relationship withMugabe.

Tsvangirai said that Mugabe had been forced to pragmatism bypolitical necessity.

"It was not by design, it was not by his own choice, it was thecircumstances that prevailed-- the political situation that led thecountry to such dire straits," Tsvangirai said. "He appreciatesthat the inclusive government has done a lot in three months, thathe has not done in a long time."

Tsvangirai said that he hopes he has begun to make the case inWashington that his government deserved more aid.

Obama said the U.S. is trying to encourage human rights and therule of law in Zimbabwe along with other basics of society: workingschools, health care and an agricultural system that can help thecountry feed its people.

Tsvangirai praised the West for its monetary support and told Obamathat the country is committed to meeting benchmarks ofprogress.

Hours before the White House meeting, Zimbabwe's political andbusiness leaders made an impassioned appeal for an end torestrictions on aid and for more international investment.

"Sanctions at this junction in our history are meaningless," DeputyPrime Minister Arthur Mutambara told an economic conference in CapeTown, South Africa. "Help us help ourselves by removing all thosesanctions so Zimbabwe can have a fresh start."

Photos: President Barack Obama meets with Zimbabwean Prime Minister

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