Tsvangirai says still committed to Zimbabwe talks

HARARE Wed Aug 13, 2008 12:57pm EDT

1 of 8. Arthur Mutambara, leader of breakaway faction of the main Zimbabwean opposition group Movement For Democratic Change (MDC), addresses a news conference at his residence in Harare August 13, 2008. Mutambara told reporters his smaller MDC faction had not signed a deal with President Robert Mugabe but should the talks fail, any party was entitled to enter into bilateral discussions.

Credit: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

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HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said on Wednesday he was still committed to power-sharing negotiations after three days of talks with President Robert Mugabe broke off without a deal.

In a statement, Tsvangirai said Zimbabwe's post-election government should be based on the March 29 first-round presidential election -- which he won, but not by a clear majority.

Negotiations followed Mugabe's unopposed re-election in June in a poll from which Tsvangirai withdrew because of attacks on his supporters. The ballot was condemned around the world.

Key to the negotiations is who gets which leadership positions and with which powers.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai met in Harare for three days in the latest round. It ended on Tuesday night without reaching agreement, dimming hopes of an end to a post election crisis that has worsened Zimbabwe's economic decline.

"The MDC remains committed to participating in any meaningful and genuine dialogue that urgently moves this process forward," Tsvangirai said in the emailed statement.

"We are committed to a solution that recognizes that the people spoke on the 29th of March 2008 -- a solution that ensures tangible deliverables are put on the table of Zimbabweans. A solution must thus put the people first, not leadership positions and titles."

South African President Thabo Mbeki, the chief mediator, said an agreement can still be reached soon despite the failure to get a deal at the marathon negotiations.

"We are indeed convinced that it is possible to conclude these negotiations quite quickly," Mbeki told reporters in the Angolan capital Luanda.

Mbeki appealed for patience, saying the crucial issue of leadership positions was still under discussion.

"They are working on a truly inclusive government," he said.

SENSITIVE ISSUE

The South African leader said overnight that the leader of the smaller MDC faction, Arthur Mutambara, had agreed to power-sharing with Mugabe. Mutambara says he has not signed a deal.

Leadership posts are a very sensitive issue for old foes Mugabe and Tsvangirai. But Zimbabwean political commentator Eldred Masunungure said concessions are unavoidable.

"The distance that President Mbeki and the Zimbabwe negotiators have traveled in these talks is quite long and if it is only one sticking issue, no matter how critical or strategic, it will be overcome," he said.

"All parties have invested a lot in these negotiations. The talks can't collapse on this last leg. Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai are condemned to a political settlement, they are sizing each other up, as it were, but there is little doubt the two will find a compromise."

Political uncertainty given the murky negotiations is likely to make investors even more cautious.

They want strong evidence that any new government will safeguard their money in a country where critics say Mugabe has used nationalization of foreign companies as a political weapon and helped to wreck the economy by seizing white-owned farms.

A protracted political stalemate would likely hinder efforts to give Zimbabweans relief from the world's highest inflation rate of over 2 million percent and severe food, fuel and foreign currency shortages.

The crisis has acquired a regional dimension. Millions of Zimbabweans have fled 80 percent unemployment and other hardships for neighboring countries, straining their economies.

Mugabe is expected to convene parliament next week and plans to form a national unity government with Mutambara, a ZANU-PF official said earlier.

Mutambara's 10 seats would give the coalition the majority in parliament that ZANU-PF lost in March elections for the first time since independence, but excluding Tsvangirai would be unlikely to end the crisis.

The picture may become clearer at the weekend, when Mbeki hosts a summit of the 14-nation regional SADC group of countries, which mandated him as mediator in the Zimbabwe talks.

Mbeki has dismissed criticism that he is too soft on the defiant Mugabe, saying pressure will only aggravate tensions.

(Additional reporting by Henrique Almeida in Luanda, Muchena Zigomo in Johannesburg, and MacDonald Dzirutwe and Nelson Banya in Harare; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Marius Bosch)

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