Zimbabwe sanctions: EU removes 35 people from ban list

Image caption, The EU has had President Mugabe and dozens of his close associates under sanctions since 2002

The European Union has eased sanctions on Zimbabwe by removing 35 individuals from a list of people affected by visa bans and asset freezes.

But sanctions on other people close to President Robert Mugabe were extended for another year as the EU expressed concern over political violence.

Officials in Mr Mugabe's party, Zanu-PF, said the move was neo-colonialist and did not go far enough.

Mr Mugabe has said he wants to hold elections this year.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is sharing power with Zanu-PF after years in opposition, says there has been a recent increase in political violence and wants elections delayed.

Earlier on Tuesday, two drivers for MDC leader Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai were released on bail after three days in jail for using blue police-style flashing lights without permission.

The MDC called the arrests harassment.

'Wives removed'

Last week, China's foreign minister called for the sanctions to be removed, while on a visit to Harare.

EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton said an EU review noted "significant progress" in addressing Zimbabwe's economic crisis and delivering basic services to citizens.

"However, economic and social developments have not been matched by equivalent progress on the political front," she said.

"In this context, I have to express my deep concerns at the upsurge in political violence seen in recent weeks," she added.

Sanctions remain on 163 people and 31 firms linked to rights abuses.

The EU decision is significant, says the BBC's Southern Africa correspondent, Karen Allen. It indicates a strategy by European leaders to try to disarm Mr Mugabe of one of his most potent political weapons.

Mr Mugabe has blamed his country's economic woes on sanctions while his opponents says they are the result of years of mismanagement.

Several of those removed from the sanctions list are the spouses of Mr Mugabe's allies.

These include the wives of central bank governor Gideon Gono and Mr Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba.

Zanu-PF officials said the EU did not go far enough. Jonathan Moyo, a member of Zanu-PF's policy-making arm, described the move as an unacceptable neo-colonial gesture.

Since 2002, nearly 200 people who make up Mr Mugabe's inner circle - and the president himself - have faced visa bans and had their assets frozen by the EU.

Zimbabwe is also subject to an arms embargo.

The 27-nation bloc claims these individuals have funded or supported violence and human rights violations within Zimbabwe.

The EU did not remove state-owned firms from its sanction list.

Among those firms are defence and diamond companies, which the EU still believes are bankrolling Zanu-PF's campaigns to quash its opponents.

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