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Zimbabwe says IMF ready to offer immediate help

* IMF prepared to offer immediate help

* Talks with IMF/World Bank reported positive

(Adds background)

HARARE, March 10 (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund is prepared to offer immediate help to Zimbabwe and an aid package for its shattered economy will be discussed in April, a government minister was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted Economic Planning and Investment Promotion Minister Elton Mangoma as saying talks with a joint IMF and World Bank delegation in Harare had been positive.

“They have told us that they are willing to immediately assist us,” Mangoma said.

IMF and World Bank officials were not immediately available for comment.

The IMF visit comes weeks after a new power-sharing government was formed between President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s sole ruler for nearly three decades, and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai, the main opposition leader.

Zimbabwe badly needs Western donors and foreign investors to rescue its economy but external help will depend on the creation of a democratic government and reforms such as reversing plans for nationalisation.

Before the mission to assess the southern African nation’s economy, IMF officials said the visit would give lenders an idea of the direction of government policy rather than lead directly to an aid package.

“The IMF mission will review Zimbabwe’s economic situation and prospects and discuss with the authorities their policies to address the acute economic and humanitarian crisis facing the country,” the Fund said.

The mission -- the first after a two-year break -- will run until March 24.

ZIMBABWE DEBTS

The IMF suspended Zimbabwe’s voting rights in June 2003, barring it from participating in IMF decisions as its economic situation deteriorated and the Mugabe government fell behind on paying its debts.

Last month, Southern African finance ministers called on the World Bank, IMF and African Development Bank to help Zimbabwe recover from economic collapse, and put the initial financing need at $2 billion.

Under their rules, the IMF and World Bank would not be able to provide financial assistance to Zimbabwe until the country has cleared its arrears to them.

The World Bank said Zimbabwe’s arrears to the bank was estimated at $600 million and to the African Development bank at $429 million at the end of June 2008. Zimbabwe’s arrears to the IMF stood at $89.23 million at the end of February 2009, according to IMF data.

Tsvangarai has warned that the country urgently needs help as inflation has reached more than 200 million percent and rendered Zimbabwe’s currency worthless.

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