The EU has eased sanctions on Zimbabwean firms and officials after a referendum approved a new constitution that will curb presidential powers.

The bloc said on Monday that it would immediately suspend travel bans and asset freezes on dozens of officials and companies, however, President Robert Mugabe will remain on the sanctions list.

“The EU ... has today agreed to immediately suspend the application of measures against 81 individuals and eight entities," Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, said in a statement.

Ten people, including Mugabe, remain on the list, an EU source said.

Two companies, including state-run diamond miner, the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, will also remain on the sanctions list.

The EU has been gradually easing its sanctions against Zimbabwe as part of a strategy to encourage political reform after 33 years of Mugabe's rule.

In a March 16 referendum, nearly 95 percent of voters approved the new constitution, bringing the southern African state closer to an election.

Ashton said the "peaceful, successful and credible" vote was a significant step in the implementation of an agreement that created an uneasy coalition between Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai following violent and disputed elections in 2008.

Presidential elections

Presidential elections are expected to take place later this year.

The decision comes on a day the country's high court released prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa on $500 bail, after more than a week in prison in a case that has renewed criticism of President Mugabe's security forces.

High court judge Joseph Musakwa set aside an earlier decision by a magistrate to deny Mtetwa bail.

Mtetwa was arrested last week together with four aides of Mugabe rival prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Mtetwa was accused of shouting at and taking pictures of police officers who were conducting a search at the home of one of the aides.

But Tsvangirai and civic rights groups fear Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party are already undermining the chances of a free and fair election.

The bail hearing for the four Tsvangirai aides is expected on Tuesday.

Source: Agencies