Mugabe to open parliament on Tuesday despite warning

Wed Aug 20, 2008 11:55am EDT

(Adds analyst comment, paragraphs 6-8)

By Nelson Banya

HARARE, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe will officially open parliament on Tuesday despite opposition warnings that this would endanger power-sharing talks aimed at ending the country's deep political crisis.

The political deadlock over who will control the government has hindered efforts to ease Zimbabwe's economic crisis. Parliament clerk Austin Zvoma told reporters the new parliament would convene on Monday.

Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said in a statement earlier that convening parliament would break a framework agreement governing talks aimed at forming a power-sharing government.

"Any decision to convene parliament will be a clear repudiation of the Memorandum of Understanding, and an indication beyond reasonable doubt of ZANU-PF's unwillingness to continue to be part of the talks. In short, convening parliament decapitates the dialogue," Biti said.

Power-sharing negotiations began last month to resolve the impasse resulting from Mugabe's unopposed re-election in June. The vote was condemned around the world and boycotted by Tsvangirai because of attacks on his supporters.

Political analyst and Mugabe critic John Makumbe said it appeared Mugabe had gained the upper hand.

"This contravenes the memorandum of understanding. It is therefore a clear indication that the talks are over and there is no agreement," he said.

"Zimbabweans will have to brace for another five years of Mugabe."



REGION FAILED

There are no signs that regional powers have made progress in persuading the ruling ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to bury their differences and get on with the daunting task of rebuilding Zimbabwe's ruined economy.

Southern African heads of state failed to secure a breakthrough in a weekend summit.

They face the daunting task of convincing long-time enemies Mugabe and Tsvangirai to compromise on the make or break issue of who will rule the country.

Inflation rocketed to a staggering 11 million percent in June, the highest in the world, from 2.2 million in May, and chronic food, fuel and foreign currency shortages are worsening.

But many economists believe the figure is higher still and it has little meaning for Zimbabweans, who find that a loaf of bread costs almost five times more than it did a month ago -- if it can be found for sale.

Many Zimbabweans had already lost hope before the polls.

Chronic food, fuel and foreign currency shortages and 80 percent unemployment have driven millions to flee the country, straining regional economies.

In March elections, the ruling ZANU-PF lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980, but Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC did not win an overall majority either.

The balance of power rests in the hands of a breakaway opposition faction led by Arthur Mutambara.

He has moved closer to Mugabe in recent weeks and any deal between them could weaken Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's most powerful opposition leader, and add to political uncertainty.

In the latest twist, the MDC initially said it had no objection to the opening of parliament but would reject any moves by Mugabe to appoint a cabinet before a deal is reached.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, ZANU-PF's chief negotiator in the talks, said: "Yesterday, they said they had no problem with parliament opening, and today they have a problem? I have no comment on that." (Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Marius Bosch)





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