Rival political leaders in Zimbabwe return to negotiating table

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Zimbabwe’s rival political leaders, Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, were on Monday locked in a second day of tough negotiations, as hopes of an imminent power-sharing deal to address the country’s bloody crisis appeared to recede.

By Tom Burgis in Johannesburg

The veteran president and the opposition leader resumed their meeting after a 17-hour marathon session on Sunday to hammer out the detail of a transitional authority to prepare for fresh elections. However, one person close to the talks – which are subject to a media blackout – said Mr Mugabe was insisting that he retain some form of executive power, a condition the opposition Movement for Democratic Change refuses to accept.

Draft proposals have focused on creating a new post of executive prime minister for Mr Tsvangirai, with Mr Mugabe remaining as ceremonial president. Cabinet positions would be split equally between Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and the MDC, with the remainder falling to the breakaway faction of the opposition party.

The MDC is confident that such an accommodation would be sufficient to unlock more than $2bn in funds amassed by donors to support Zimbabwe’s reconstruction. Diplomats have said, however, that it is by no means guaranteed that the funds would be released to an administration in which Mr Mugabe and his allies retained influence.

Mr Tsvangirai triumphed in first-round presidential polls in March but withdrew from a run-off against Mr Mugabe amid widespread attacks on supporters of his Movement for Democratic Change. Mr Mugabe proceeded to victory unopposed in a June vote that was condemned by election monitors. Violence has persisted since then and the inflation-battered economy has continued to deteriorate.

Arthur Mutambara, leader of the breakaway faction of the MDC, was also present at the meeting hosted by Thabo Mbeki, the South African president, who is fronting regional mediation efforts.

Mr Mbeki is under pressure to produce progress before a regional summit in Johannesburg this weekend. At least one of Zimbabwe’s neighbours – Botswana – is preparing to boycott the gathering of the Southern African Development Community if Mr Mugabe attends as leader. But the person close to the talks said the sides appeared too far apart for an agreement to be reached on Monday.

In a message prepared for Monday’s celebrations to honour the fighters who died in Zimbabwe’s liberation war, Mr Mutambara writes: “We have a national political agreement that seeks to bring all our people together irrespective of party affiliation. This compromise solution . . . with its glaring and attendant limitations, is the best temporary measure.”

Some civil society groups fear, however, that the MDC risks paying too high a price for power and might serve to legitimise those in the Mugabe regime who will retain influence in the settlement. Zanu-PF is expected to keep control of the defence ministry.

The Financial Times

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