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Motlanthe, Mbeki in Zim for power-sharing talks

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe and former president Thabo Mbeki have arrived in Harare, Zimbabwe, to mediate talks later on Monday with the country’s political leaders.

The South African Department of Foreign Affairs, said Motlanthe — the current chairperson of the South African Development Community (SADC) — and Mbeki, the SADC mediator, would be joined by Mozambican President Armando Emilio Guebuza, the president and deputy chairperson of the SADC organ on politics.

They will meet with Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, and Arthur Mutambara, who heads a breakaway faction of the MDC, to try to salvage a unity accord that stalled almost as soon as it was signed in September 2008.

State media reported on Monday that the talks could be a last-ditch attempt at a unity deal.

”It’s D-Day for the envisaged inclusive government with both Zanu-PF and MDC-T intimating at the weekend that today’s SADC-brokered meeting could be the last attempt to make the broad-based agreement work,” the Herald said.

”The meeting of the leaders will be followed by a meeting of the negotiating teams, which is expected to discuss outstanding matters related to the implementation of the Global Agreement, including the processing of Zimbabwe Constitution Amendment 19,” the foreign affairs department said.

The Bill gives effect to the power-sharing agreement and could be presented to Parliament when it resumed sitting on Tuesday.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai have yet to agree on how to share power within Cabinet despite repeated interventions by African leaders.

On Sunday Mugabe threatened to break off power-sharing talks if the opposition declined a deal, saying ”either they accept or it’s a break” in the government mouthpiece Sunday Mail newspaper. ”If they have any issues they deem outstanding, they can raise them after they come into the inclusive government,” he said.

Tsvangirai’s MDC, meanwhile, insisted that all outstanding issues be resolved before a unity government is formed — not after. They include allegations that its supporters had been abducted and tortured by state security agents.

Under the power-sharing accord, 84-year-old Mugabe would remain president, Tsvangirai would become prime minister and nearly all major Cabinet ministries would go to Mugabe’s party.

But Tsvangirai has said he will not be ”bulldozed” into joining a lopsided government, after winning the first round of presidential elections in March but pulling out of the runoff because of violence against his supporters.

On Sunday he reiterated demands that his party receive an equal share of Cabinet portfolios. In particular, he wants control of the Home Affairs Ministry in charge of police, who are accused of a wave of abductions of opposition supporters.

The opposition party also wants a say in how Zimbabwe’s National Security Council is composed and run. And the party’s executive committee demanded after a meeting on Sunday that their imprisoned supporters be released.

The impasse has only worsened the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans, with half the population dependent on food aid, astronomical levels of hyperinflation and a cholera epidemic sweeping unchecked across the country.

The central bank last week introduced a new 100-trillion Zimbabwe dollar note to keep pace with dizzying price increases. Inflation is officially at 231-million percent — in reality much higher. The health, water and education systems have collapsed, and most major goods are in shortage.

More than 5-million Zimbabweans are likely to be dependent on food aid this year, and a cholera epidemic has killed more than 2 200 people and infected about 42 000.

In a separate development, a British photographer said Mugabe’s wife punched him repeatedly in the face last week after he tried to take pictures of her near the luxury Shangri-La hotel in Hong Kong.

Richard Jones said Grace Mugabe (43) ordered a bodyguard to hold him down and then attacked him herself on Thursday. He said he was on a freelance assignment for London’s Sunday Times. – Sapa-AFP

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