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Amid Gloom, South Africa's Mbeki Hopeful Of Zimbabwe Breakthrough

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VOA News - August 13, 2008


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South African President Thabo Mbeki said Wednesday he remains hopeful a power-sharing agreement between Zimbabwe's long-ruling ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change can be reached soon despite indications the talks are virtually deadlocked, but developments on the ground in the country threatened the crisis resolution process.

President Robert Mugabe and MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai have been unable to agree on a formula for the amount of power each of them would wield in a cooperative government and also on whether a new constitution is needed or if amendments will suffice.

Mr. Mbeki, mediator in the talks on behalf of the Southern African Development Community, was in Angola on Wednesday briefing President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, head of SADC's organ on politics and defense which has an oversight brief in the negotiations.

Mr. Mbeki asked all concerned to give the process time, but reports from the state-controlled Herald newspaper warned that President Mugabe has run out of patience.

The Herald said Mr. Mugabe intended to announce a new cabinet and would call parliament back into session "soon.? Such a course of action would breach the memorandum of understanding signed July 21 by the three parties to the negotiating process, which include Tsvangirai and rival MDC formation leader Arthur Mutambara.

Tsvangirai said Thursday that he is "committed to reaching an agreement that upholds the will of the people.? Tsvangirai was expected to travel to Pretoria shortly to brief SADC leaders on the sidelines of the regional summit which is to open there on Friday.

But Zimbabwean security sources told VOA that Tsvangirai might be prevented from leaving the country, contributing to a rise in tension in the country.

Secretary General Tendai Biti of the Tsvangirai MDC formation told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that all eyes are now on Mbeki to salvage the talks.

Meanwhile, Harare correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported that Mutambara in a news conference disclaimed reports he had reached a power-sharing agreement with president Robert Mugabe which did not have the accord of Tsvangirai.

Poliitical analyst Charles Mangongera said Mr. Mbeki can still pull out a power-sharing deal, but emphasized that he must broaden the mediation process.

With SADC heads of state and government due in Pretoria shortly, Mr. Mbeki, to assume the SADC rotating chairmanship during the summit, is under some pressure to show results from the talks or at least progress pointing to a successful near-term conclusion.

SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salomao said the summit agenda includes the launch of a free trade zone and political problems in the Democratic Republic of Congo, among other countries, as well as the xenophobic attacks that broke out in South Africa in May.

But the Zimbabwe talks have a high profile and Mr. Mbeki is expected to report back to the SADC leaders on the status of the talks.

Political analyst Farai Maguwu told reporter Carole Gombakomba that while Mbeki may not have a breakthrough to report, he nonetheless has positive elements to highlight.


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