France on Tuesday gave Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai a prestigious award for his efforts in fighting for democracy.

“On behalf of the President of the Republic (of France), we knight you, Commander of the Legion of Honour,” Francois Ponge, French ambassador to Zimbabwe said at the occasion to honour Tsvangirai at the French envoy’s residence in the capital Harare.

“The Legion of Honour is the highest French decoration.”

Ponge chronicled Tsvangirai’s rise from a trade union leader to his founding of the Movement for Democratic Change which has challenged President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party from 2000.

Tsvangirai went on to form a coalition government with the 88-year-old veteran leader after violence-marred 2008 elections.

“At the forefront of many struggles you have been imprisoned and you also organised the first mass ‘stay away’ in this country,” Ponge said.

“We all remember the photo that raised worldwide emotion where you were shown badly swollen leaving cells where you had been assaulted.”

“Those who assaulted you thought they would dissuade you from politics, sway you, bring you down, they forgot that by beating an iron you can forge a sword,” he added.

Police beat up Tsvangirai in 2007 for organising a pro-democracy prayer rally.

Tsvangirai dedicated the award to the people of Zimbabwe.

“This honour is not mine. I would like to dedicate this honour on those people, Zimbabweans who have struggled with us for true democracy for the objective of having freedom in this country,” he said.

The premier said Zimbabwe though independent from colonial rule in 1980, is still to enjoy full democracy.

“I give testimony to the subjection of this country to state sponsored violence, unnecessarily we have shed blood in this country. I am glad President Mugabe has stated quite openly that (there should be) no more shedding of blood,” he said.

“I believe that statement represent a very positive step of this transition.”

“I can assure you that as we move towards elections, let it be the end of acrimony, of hate speech, of reconciliation for the country.”

Ponge noted that Tsvangirai has joined individuals like Myanmar’s democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi who was decorated with France’s Legion of Honour award in recent months.

Zimbabwe is planning to hold a referendum after a draft constitution was written to allow fresh elections after deadly polls in 2008 left more than 200 MDC supporters dead due to political violence.

(Source)