Tsvangirai says talks deadline flexible

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said on Thursday he was ”fairly satisfied” with talks with President Robert Mugabe’s party to end a political crisis, and said a Monday, August 4 deadline was ”not inflexible”.

Tsvangirai said talks would resume as planned on Sunday with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. Power-sharing negotiations began last week under international pressure after Mugabe’s unopposed re-election in a poll dismissed around the world as a sham.

”I am fairly satisfied, but there are, like in any negotiations, sticking points that need to be unravelled,” Tsvangirai told reporters in Dakar after meeting Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.

The talks adjourned on Tuesday, leaving little time to complete them by the August 4 deadline set out in the framework for negotiations signed on July 21.

”Two weeks may appear too short, but it is not inflexible and I am sure that the facilitation will adjust as progress moves forward,” Tsvangirai said.

South African President Thabo Mbeki is mediating between the opposing camps, whose political struggle has exacerbated an economic crisis that has brought hyperinflation and food shortages and forced millions into Zimbabwe’s neighbours.

Tsvangirai won a first round of voting in March but official results said he fell short of an outright majority. He abandoned a run-off vote against Mugabe in June because of attacks on his supporters. He says more than 120 have been killed.

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 and wants to carry on with his new five-year mandate, said on Wednesday that the talks were going well and he wanted them to succeed.

But the MDC has said only Tsvangirai can lead a new government as he won the first round of voting.

Analysts say both sides are deeply entrenched and finding middle ground will be difficult. Tsvangirai declined on Thursday to give any details of the progress made in the talks so far.

But he told Britain’s Channel 4 news on Wednesday that he hoped the process would allow Mugabe an ”honourable exit”.

European Aid Commissioner Louis Michel said he hoped the talks would succeed, but said he was worried at continuing violence and intimidation as well as restrictions on humanitarian work.

”This situation is unacceptable and is putting thousands of innocent civilian lives, including women and children, at risk,” he said. ”I therefore call upon the Zimbabwean authorities to denounce and abandon violence and to provide unfettered humanitarian access.” – Reuters

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