Monday, January 19, 2009

ZIMBABWE RIVALS HOLDING KEY TALKS

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe
Mr Mugabe, 84, has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai are holding talks seen as "make-or-break" to salvage a unity government.

The two men are discussing a power-sharing agreement, stalled since September. The presidents of Mozambique and South Africa are also attending.

Mr Mugabe says he will not make any more concessions until a unity government is formed.

Mr Tsvangirai says he will not be bulldozed into an agreement.

Under September's deal, Mr Tsvangirai is to become prime minister while Mr Mugabe remains as president.


But the deal faltered after Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party accused Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF of trying to keep the most powerful ministries - including the one that controls the police - to itself.

The political deadlock has exacerbated the problems facing Zimbabweans, from a cholera epidemic and an economic meltdown to food shortages and the collapse of basic services such as health and education.

The MDC has also complained about the abduction of opposition and human rights activists by state security agents.

Zimbabwean journalist Brian Hungwe - who is at the talks taking place in a luxury Harare hotel - says he has been told that Mr Tsvangirai presented a thick dossier of new conditions at the meeting, prompting an angry response from Mr Mugabe.

STATE OF ZIMBABWE
Villagers getting food aid
Five million people - almost half population - need food aid
Central bank introduced Z$100tr note, worth about US$30 (£20)
Unemployment more than 80%
More than 2,200 people have died in cholera outbreak

He says there is not much hope among Zimbabweans for great strides forward, given the political rivals' hard positions, and the mood is one of despair.

One man in Harare told him: "People's lives here have collapsed significantly. People can't afford food, school, transport. I want a revival of that.

"If those talks are not going to meet those minimum requirements then those talks are nonsense."

Another man said: "My desire would be to see these two guys coming together. We, as Zimbabweans, we are suffering... it's so pathetic. I look forward to a positive result."

Zimbabwe analyst Knox Chitoyo told the BBC's Network Africa programme that the two sides had lost all trust in each other.

"It's hard to envisage how they find any middle-ground, said Mr Chitoyo, from the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). "One or other of them is going to have to climb down seriously."

Mr Mugabe told state media that the MDC must "accept" the deal at Monday's talks, "or it's a break". "If they have any issues they deem outstanding, they can raise them after they come into the inclusive government," he added.

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai at Harare airport on 17 January 2009
Mr Tsvangirai (C) has been out of Zimbabwe since November
South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, his predecessor Thabo Mbeki and Mozambican leader Armando Emilio Guebuza are attending the talks to push for a breakthrough.

But Mr Mugabe said he had done everything required under the agreement and the time for talks was over.

"We have gone past negotiations and whatever concessions were there to be made have already been made," he said in the state-owned Sunday Mail.

"We have done all that SADC [Southern African Development Community] expected us to do and all that remains is fulfilling the agreement by forming an inclusive government."

The clear implication is that if the MDC does not signal agreement now, Mr Mugabe will go ahead and form a government unilaterally, the BBC's Peter Biles in Johannesburg says.

The MDC was deciding how to proceed with outstanding issues, particularly what it called Zanu-PF's unchanged "mindset and attitude" about a smooth running unity government.

Spokesman Nelson Chamisa told AFP news agency: "There has to be finality to the dialogue process - either in failure or in success."

Mr Tsvangirai arrived back in Zimbabwe on Saturday after an absence of more than two months, telling reporters his party would not be "bulldozed" into any deal not reflecting the will of the people.

Mr Tsvangirai gained the most votes in elections last March but not enough for outright victory.

He pulled out of a run-off in June against Mr Mugabe, citing a campaign of violence against opposition supporters.
BBC NEWS REPORT.

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