Leaders: Zimbabwe has basis for power-sharing agreement

Monday, August 18, 2008

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Zimbabwean negotiators have the basis for a power-sharing agreement and should quickly resolve their political differences and turn their attention to their nation's economic crisis, southern African leaders said Sunday.

Zimbabwe's opposition portrayed that assessment — reached after three days of discussions among Southern African Development Community leaders at a regional summit — as an endorsement of further talks.

But it also could be read as pressure to approve a deal despite signs the opposition and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's party have deep reservations.

The SADC's key committee on security and politics said it had reviewed a report on more than a year of mediation sponsored by the regional bloc.

In recent weeks, the negotiations had focused on trying to bring Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai into a unity government. Both appear at odds over who would wield the most power in such a government.

The SADC encouraged Zimbabwean rivals "to sign any outstanding agreements as a matter of urgency to restore political stability in Zimbabwe."

Zimbabwe's inflation is the highest in the world, leaving people unable to afford food and other basics in what had once been the region's breadbasket. Poor rains have affected the recent harvest. Earlier this year, the U.N. estimated the number of Zimbabweans suffering from food insecurity will reach more than 5 million between January and March.

But since June, Mugabe's government has banned aid agencies from working in the field, accusing them of supporting the opposition.

"The political conditions must be created ... so that this humanitarian, socio-economic situation in Zimbabwe is addressed as a matter of urgency by an inclusive government," Mbeki said.

Tendai Biti, the opposition's chief negotiator, also said "it is critical that we conclude (negotiations) as a matter of urgency, because people are suffering."

Attempts to reach Mugabe's spokesman, George Charamba, were not immediately successful.

Tsvangirai came first in a field of four in a first round of presidential voting in March, but did not avoid a runoff against second-place finisher Mugabe. Tsvangirai withdrew from the June 27 runoff because of attacks on his supporters.

Mugabe held the runoff, and was declared the overwhelming winner, though the vote was widely denounced.

In a speech Friday to SADC leaders, Tsvangirai said his Movement for Democratic Change had proposed to Mugabe's ZANU-PF that Tsvangirai take a powerful prime minister's role in any unity government. Tsvangirai said he would concede the presidency — and the role of military commander in chief — to Mugabe.

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