Power-sharing deal reached in Zimbabwe

Political rivals reached a power-sharing ending a bitter crisis after marathon negotiations.

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Zimbabwe's political rivals reached a power-sharing deal yesterday in a bid to end a bitter crisis after marathon negotiations that centred on how much power the president Robert Mugabe would cede. The South African president Thabo Mbeki, who has long served as mediator in the talks, announced the agreement in Harare, where he had been since earlier in the week to try to overcome a deadlock in the negotiations.

"An agreement has been reached on all items on the agenda... all of them endorsed the document tonight, signed it," Mr Mbeki told reporters. Details of the deal were not released and Mr Mbeki said the agreement would only be made public after a formal signing ceremony scheduled for next Monday. The South African president said the rivals will also on Monday "file a report concerning the constitutional composition of the inclusive government that has been agreed".

The parties "will spend the next days constituting this inclusive government." Mr Mugabe and his longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai had tussled in the negotiations over how to share power, with the opposition leader warning he would prefer no deal at all over a bad agreement. Mr Tsvangirai said recently he would not accept any accord that did not grant him sufficient power. Control of Zimbabwe's security forces was believed to have been one of the major stumbling blocks.

The 84-year-old Mr Mugabe, a liberation hero in the war that led to Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, and who has ruled since that time, has drawn strong support from the country's security chiefs. Mr Tsvangirai was the first to signal a deal as he emerged from a meeting with Mr Mugabe. "We've got a deal," the leader of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party told journalists after the tortuous negotiations.

Mr Mugabe won a controversial June presidential runoff unopposed after Mr Tsvangirai withdrew despite finishing ahead of the president in the March first round, citing state-sponsored violence against his supporters. The announcement of the deal was a dramatic turn from Mr Mugabe's pessimism earlier in the day, when he reported a logjam and accused Mr Tsvangirai once again of being a Western stooge.

"They want to govern... we say never," he told Zimbabwe television news after a meeting with tribal chiefs in the second city of Bulawayo. "It is humiliating to be negotiating with a party sponsored by countries pushing for regime change," Mr Mugabe added, reiterating claims that Mr Tsvangirai is a puppet of the West, especially of former colonial ruler Britain and the United States. While the political crisis has dragged on, Zimbabwe's economy has continued its free fall with the world's highest inflation rate ? 11.2 million per cent in June, according to official figures.

Twelve hours of negotiations chaired by Mbeki on Wednesday brought the sides closer to a power-sharing deal, with Mr Mugabe at that point saying a deal would "hopefully" be signed yesterday. Mr Tsvangirai had said earlier that "very little is left" to be agreed, but gave no details of the sticking points. South Africa's Business Day daily reported that Mugabe was refusing to sign a deal which would clip his powers.

The paper quoted sources as saying the veteran leader was refusing to sign a proposal that would entail him equally sharing executive powers with Mr Tsvangirai. The daily said some of the issues to be thrashed out on Thursday included how many ministers each party will have and how long a transitional government would rule. Meanwhile, the former UN chief Kofi Annan slammed the African Union for not endorsing the opposition victory in March elections.

He told a conference in Berlin he was "disappointed in the African Union. The African Union should have endorsed the results and said to Mugabe: you are not a legally-elected president". Once hailed as Africa's breadbasket, Zimbabwe's economy has virtually collapsed over the past decade with inflation out of control and chronic shortages of foreign currency and food including the staples cornmeal, sugar and cooking oil.

*AFP