Mugabe, Tsvangirai held secret meeting

Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe last week acceded to a secret meeting with his rival, pro-democracy leader Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe state media reported on Monday as Southern African leaders were about to meet on the Zimbabwean crisis.

The Herald, controlled by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, said the meeting took place at Tsvangirai’s request, and was held on Thursday at Zimbabwe House, one of Mugabe’s official residences in central Harare.

It said Mugabe appealed to Tsvangirai to be sworn in immediately as prime minister in terms of the stalled power-sharing agreement between the two rivals.

The newspaper said Mugabe told Tsvangirai that he should ”accompany him [Mugabe] over the road to State House”, the government’s ceremonial and diplomatic reception residence that lies opposite Zimbabwe House, ”to be sworn in as prime minister”. Tsvangirai rejected the plea, the Herald said.

The power-sharing agreement, signed on September 15, proposes Mugabe as president and Tsvangirai as prime minister.

The disclosure came as a summit of regional leaders on the stalemate in the implementation of the agreement, was about to convene in Pretoria, South Africa.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is meeting to try to bring Mugabe and Tsvangirai, head of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the winner of national elections in March last year, to make concessions on their opposing positions that would allow the proposed joint ”government of national unity” to start working.

Until now, Mugabe’s spokespeople have bluntly denied that Mugabe would agree to Tsvangirai’s request for a tête-à-tête to break the deadlock, following a failed SADC mediation attempt in Harare on Monday last week.

Mugabe’s officials have said such a meeting would serve no useful purpose. Observers say Mugabe’s accession, and his appeal to Tsvangirai to be sworn in there and then, is an indication of Mugabe’s urgency for Tsvangirai to agree to implement the power-sharing deal.

Tsvangirai has refused to be sworn in until Mugabe agrees to share Cabinet and government positions equitably, and to release dozens of MDC and civic rights activists arrested and tortured by Mugabe’s secret police since October last year. Mugabe has dismissed the demands.

Observers say that Mugabe’s accession to talks underline his awareness that he needs Tsvangirai’s presence to lend legitimacy in the proposed new transitional government, and is an apparent acknowledgement by the 84-year-old despot that he cannot go ahead unilaterally.

MDC officials were not available to comment on the meeting.

However, a minister in the Zimbabwean government said Mugabe would form a government after Monday’s SADC summit with or without a deal with Tsvangirai.

”This summit is the last summit that is going to discuss this issue of an inclusive government. If it does not work today, definitely when the president comes back here, he has to form a new government with or without Morgan Tsvangirai,” Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said.

”The way forward, soon after this summit whether there is an agreement or there is no agreement, President Mugabe is going to form a Cabinet, 15 Cabinet ministers, eight deputy ministers of Zanu-PF,” he said in an interview on public broadcaster SAfm.

”He will obviously try to leave room for Tsvangirai so that whenever he changes his mind … but that is not going to be for too long. He will then come to join the all-inclusive government. There has to be a government whether there is MDC or not,” he said.

Zim police stop opposition rally
Meanwhile, on Sunday Zimbabwean police called off an opposition rally in Harare, prompting accusations of political interference on the eve of the SADC summit.

Opposition spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said leaders of the MDC had organised the rally to update members on their position headed into the talks taking place on Monday.

In an interview on Sunday, chief opposition spokesperson Tendai Biti said the banning of Sunday’s rally was evidence that Zanu-PF held his party in ”total contempt”. Biti, in South Africa for Monday’s talks, said Zanu-PF’s attitude left little reason to hope the summit would produce a breakthrough.

The Mugabe government’s position was laid out on Sunday in an editorial in the state-owned Mail newspaper, which accused the opposition of being ”intransigent”.

Human rights activists say Mugabe’s government has stepped up its crackdown on free speech and dissent in recent weeks.

But a police spokesperson says Sunday’s rally was banned because of the danger of violence among opposition factions.

Chamisa dismissed that as ”ridiculous” and said police were acting on Zanu-PF orders. ”I don’t know where the excuses they are giving are coming from,” he said.

The Zimbabwean Mail editorial on Sunday accused the opposition of trying ”to see to it that the September [unity government] accord does not see the light of day without them openly pulling out of the accord”.

Biti said the opposition was prepared to compromise, but had already given up significant ground — including accepting that Tsvangirai would not be president. He repeated opposition calls on Mugabe’s fellow African leaders to deal with him more decisively.

EU tightens sanctions
On Monday the European Union tightened sanctions on Mugabe’s government over growing frustration about human rights abuses and the political situation, EU diplomats said.

EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, made the decision to add 26 Zimbabwean officials and 36 companies to the EU’s visa and assets freeze blacklist to pressure Mugabe to share power with Zimbabwe’s opposition. The additions raise the number of blacklisted Zimbabwean people and companies to 203. For the first time European-based firms are included.

The EU introduced sanctions against Mugabe’s regime in 2002 to protest the country’s poor human rights record and lack of democratic reforms. Blacklisted officials are barred from travelling to EU countries, and blacklisted companies cannot do business in the 27-nation bloc.

Entering the talks, British Foreign Minister David Miliband said the EU remained ”resolute” in supporting the Zimbabwean people’s ”call for change”. — Sapa-DPA-AP

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