HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Zimbabwe's new prime minister said President Robert Mugabe could not be held accountable for the political violence during his 28-year rule but that others might face prosecution in the future.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, spoke to The Times at his home Tuesday, a day after his longtime opposition group signed a power-sharing agreement with Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party.
The issue of prosecutions over political violence and killings is so contentious that it was left out of the deal negotiations. One senior ZANU-PF figure said Mugabe would abandon the deal and unleash violence rather than face prosecution.
Tsvangirai said the president's past actions were "not prosecutable."
"I don't think Mugabe himself as a person can be held accountable," he said. "But there are various levels of institutional violence that has taken place, and I'm sure they'll be able to look at that.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, September 18, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Zimbabwean leader: An article in Wednesday's section A about the power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe incorrectly identified Morgan Tsvangirai as the nation's prime minister. He has been designated prime minister under the deal, but his appointment is not yet final.
"Let the rule of law apply. Isn't that what we all cry for?"
The deal leaves in question whether Mugabe will dominate the new government and how Tsvangirai will work with bitter opponents in the long-ruling ZANU-PF. Many likely members of the Cabinet, which will be divided between the ruling party and the former opposition, are hostile to the new prime minister; some were responsible for past violence against his colleagues and supporters.
Critics are questioning why Tsvangirai signed the accord without knowing who will control the security forces and which Cabinet posts his party will get.
On Tuesday, Tsvangirai predicted that some ministers would actively work against him, but he said Mugabe would not be a problem because the president had "given up" -- despite his defiant speech upon signing the accord.
"There's an inherent suspicion, there's inherent mistrust of Robert Mugabe," Tsvangirai said.
"It's understandable given his history, given his role. It's part of his legacy.
"But he also must understand that the future is not in the hands of Robert Mugabe," he added. "The future is in the hands of those who are advocating for change of direction, because that is what is going to rescue this country. And I think he appreciates that."
Tsvangirai said the president's speech offering only half-hearted support of the deal was "vintage Mugabe at his best -- unrepentant, defiant, even when he was giving up."
The deal is an attempt to resolve the political crisis over disputed elections. ZANU-PF lost control of parliament in March, and Tsvangirai outpolled Mugabe in a first-round presidential vote, leading to a long political impasse and violence that killed more than 120 opposition activists.
Tsvangirai said he aimed to win over progressive ministers in ZANU-PF and sidestep opponents determined to block him.
Tsvangirai desperately needs to attract Western aid to rebuild the shattered country. He acknowledged that Western governments were cautious because the deal left Mugabe as president. But he asked them to recognize the accord as a positive step and support it, "because they were supporting the democratic struggle in the country."
"They are skeptical because they mistrust Mugabe, but they are also aware of their obligations," Tsvangirai said. "What they're trying to look for is: Are we in charge of the agenda? Are we putting together a reform program in line with our policies? How do we restore people's freedoms? How do we restore economic viability?
"These are the things that would give them positive signals."