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Zimbabweans optimistic of new power deal

ZIMBABWEAN President Robert Mugabe swore in his longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister yesterday, ushering in a unity government in an extraordinary concession after nearly three decades of virtually unchallenged rule.

There had been pressure for Mugabe ?? who remains president in the coalition ?? to step down altogether, and questions remain about whether a partnership between the two can work.

Regional leaders looked on while Zimbabweans across the country tuned in to state television as Tsvangirai raised his right hand and was sworn in.

Both Tsvangirai and Mugabe were relaxed and smiling during the brief ceremony, which also included the swearing-in of Tsvangirai's deputies, Arthur Mutambara of a breakaway opposition party and Thokozani Khupe of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party.

In a speech later to those who had attended the ceremony, Tsvangirai said that he knew many were "skeptical of this arrangement. But this is the only viable arrangement that we have. I ask for Zimbabweans to be patient and give us time."

Ian Stephens, a Harare businessman, said it was too early to celebrate.

"It depends on how cooperative Mugabe is and whether he can be trusted," Stephens said. But "Mugabe no longer has absolute power and that could be the turning point."

The country's economic situation has left millions dependent on international food aid.

Sampson Ibrahim, a street vendor, was in a crowd watching the broadcast on a TV in the window of an electronics store in downtown Harare.

"I am happy because I expect prices to go down," Ibrahim said. "They've got to get the schools and the hospitals working again."

Tsvangirai said yesterday that the new government would work to get children in school, hospitals open "and food back on the tables for everybody, regardless of his political affiliation."

At a celebration rally after his swearing-in, he drew the biggest cheer from the crowd of 15,000 when he pledged that starting next month, all government workers - from teachers to soldiers - would be paid in hard currency to shield them from the world's highest inflation rate. He did not say how the cash-strapped government would do that.


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