HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — The European Union said Monday it has removed 21 loyalists of Zimbabwe's president from a sanctions list of people facing travel and banking bans.
The EU said another six cabinet ministers from President Robert Mugabe's party are also now allowed to travel to Europe.
It said the decision to remove those restrictions was a result of a "step forward" in finalizing a draft constitution which is set to go voted on in a national referendum on March 16.
The draft constitution "adds further momentum to the reform process and paves way for the holding of peaceful, transparent and credible elections later this year," said the EU statement.
Those freed to travel and do business in Europe include former cabinet ministers, officials and one company linked to Mugabe's party. Another 101 individuals and companies remain on the banned list.
The sanctions were imposed on Mugabe's party to protest human rights violations over the past decade of political turmoil and economic meltdown.
The EU decision was made at a meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers and the announcement was made in a statement released simultaneously in Harare and Brussels and read out in Zimbabwe by EU chief of delegation Aldo Dell'Ariccia.
Among the ministers from Mugabe's party allowed to visit Europe is Webster Shamu, the information minister who controls the state media.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader in a four-year old coalition with Mugabe that was formed regional mediators after violent and disputed elections in 2008, told reporters later Monday that there has been no "political will" to implement much needed reforms to create an "enabling environment" for free and fair elections.
Tsvangirai said media reforms must be put in place immediately because it "would be unfair to go for elections with the kind of media we have."
Virulent criticism of Mugabe's opponents, comparable to hate speech, has continued in state-controlled media run by Shamu, said Tsvangirai.
In an election year, the media should promote all opinions to ensure a free vote, he said.
The EU statement made no mention of reports in the state media on Monday that EU members Britain, the former colonial power, and Belgium made a deal to allow Antwerp diamond dealers to buy diamonds from Zimbabwe's eastern fields long mired in allegations of killing, human rights abuses and corruption by Mugabe loyalists in the police and military.