Zimbabwe's opposition MDC rejects SADC demands

JOHANNESBURG Sun Nov 9, 2008 7:38pm EST

1 of 6. Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters carry a mock coffin as they protest outside the venue of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting in Sandton November 9, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Southern African leaders said on Sunday that Zimbabwe's political rivals must split the leadership of a key ministry, a move rejected by the opposition in a further sign that power-sharing talks were unraveling.

The 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) said in a resolution Zimbabwe's squabbling political parties should form a unity government immediately to end a stalemate over the allocation of ministries.

But opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said he was "shocked and saddened" by the outcome of a summit, which brought together leaders and ministers of SADC countries for more than 12 hours of talks on Zimbabwe's political impasse and the violence in eastern Congo.

"The MDC is shocked and saddened that SADC summit has failed to tackle these key issues ... a great opportunity has been missed by SADC to bring an end to the Zimbabwean crisis," Tsvangirai said at a post-summit news conference.

SADC said Tsvangirai did not agree with SADC's call for his Movement for Democratic Change to co-manage Zimbabwe's Home Affairs Ministry with President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF.

The resolution calling for joint control of the ministry -- which controls Zimbabwe's police and is the main sticking point in the talks -- was backed by all 15 members of SADC, said Arthur Mutambara, leader of a breakaway MDC faction.

The SADC said a unity government must be formed.

"We need to form an inclusive government, today or tomorrow," SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salamao told reporters late on Sunday night after the summit in South Africa.

"... SADC was asked to rule and SADC took a decision and that's the position of SADC. Now it's up to the parties to implement," he said.

REGIONAL INSTABILITY

Mugabe, in power since 1980, appeared optimistic that an agreement could be reached but Tsvangirai warned of regional instability if the ruling party refused to loosen what he called its illegitimate grip on power.

The old foes have been deadlocked over allocation of important cabinet positions since the September 15 deal, which Zimbabweans hoped would produce a united leadership to revive the ruined economy in the country where inflation is the world's highest and food and fuel shortages widespread.

Control of the Home Affairs Ministry has been one of the main sticking points in implementing the power-sharing deal.

Tsvangirai said co-managing the ministry with the ruling party was unworkable, citing the party's contempt for the MDC.

He said SADC lacked the "courage and decency to look Robert Mugabe in the eyes" and tell him his position was wrong.

Highlighting growing regional impatience, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said earlier on Sunday the deal offered the only hope for Zimbabwe to ease the economic crisis.

Past SADC meetings have failed to produce a breakthrough.

Although some leaders have taken a tough line on Mugabe, political analysts say SADC does not have the resolve to impose tough measures, such as sanctions, to force an agreement.

The heads of state of Botswana and Zambia, the most outspoken regional critics of Mugabe, did not attend the summit.

Tsvangirai, who would become prime minister under the power-sharing deal, has accused Mugabe's ZANU-PF of trying to seize the lion's share of important ministries and relegating the MDC to the role of junior partner.

Zimbabwe's economic crisis has forced millions of its citizens to flee the country, many of them moving to neighboring South Africa, Africa's biggest economy.

Zimbabwean state media reported that Mugabe's government would not change its stance on key cabinet positions and the opposition should accept joint control of the interior ministry.

(Additional reporting by Phumza Macanda; Writing by Marius Bosch; Editing by Michael Georgy)

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