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World News

Fresh violence clouds resumption of Zimbabwe talks

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimababwe’s opposition on Friday accused government security forces of murdering a polling agent in fresh political violence that could undermine preliminary talks with President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party.

Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from a June 27 presidential run-off poll, citing attacks on his supporters by pro-Mugabe militia. The MDC and Western powers branded Mugabe’s landslide re-election a sham.

Tsvangirai’s MDC and a smaller faction led by Arthur Mutambara began preliminary discussions on Thursday with officials from Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF under the auspices of South African mediators in Pretoria, the South African capital.

“Yes, the talks are continuing,” a diplomatic source close to the talks told Reuters on Friday. Tsvangirai’s MDC has played down the importance of the talks.

“There hasn’t been any dialogue as far as we are concerned, but what I can confirm, though, is that we have had consultative contacts with a view to outlining the broad parameters, the framework of the negotiation ...,” MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said.

A total of 113 MDC activists have been killed in election-related violence since the first round of elections in late March, the party said in a statement announcing the death of one of its officials, Gift Mutsvungunu.

His decomposing body was found in a Harare suburb on Thursday, with eyes gouged out and a severely burned backside,” it said. “There is reasonable suspicion that state security agents killed him.”

Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in a March 29 presidential election but failed to win the absolute majority needed to avoid the second ballot. The MDC leader has refused to negotiate a power-sharing deal until the government halts the bloodshed.

U.N. SANCTIONS RESOLUTION FAILED

Western nations led by Britain and the United States on Friday failed in their bid to push the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Mugabe’s inner circle and an arms embargo on Zimbabwe.

Russia and China vetoed the resolution in the 15-member council.

They backed South Africa in opposing sanctions, as do most other African nations. The African Union, at a summit last month, called for talks leading to a national unity government.

They say harsh punishment of Mugabe could derail a political solution and push Zimbabwe’s economy deeper into crisis.

“The important thing is that there must be a dialogue, there must be an expeditious solution and an expeditious outcome that will address the problems of Zimbabwe,” South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said.

Once prosperous Zimbabwe suffers the world’s worst inflation rate, estimated to be at least 2 million percent, and millions of its people have fled to neighboring countries in search of food and work.

Tsvangirai is under intense African pressure to enter full-blown negotiations with Mugabe, who has branded the MDC puppets of the West and vowed to never let them take power.

Both sides have laid down pre-conditions obstructing a deal.

Mugabe, 84, who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980, insists the opposition recognize his landslide victory in the election last month.

Tsvangirai has demanded that the government recognize his victory in the March poll in addition to halting violence, releasing MDC activists from jail and allowing humanitarian agencies to resume their work in the country.

Mugabe’s government suspended the work of overseas aid agencies before the June poll, accusing them of working on behalf of the opposition.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has mediated unsuccessfully in the crisis for more than a year, drawing increasing criticism. The MDC say he favors Mugabe and has called for expanded mediation from the AU and United Nations.

Some African leaders support a power-sharing solution in Zimbabwe like the one mediated by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to end Kenya’s bloody post-election crisis this year.

Annan, however, warned on Thursday that any deal ignoring the will of Zimbabwe’s people was doomed.

“But in sorting it out it has to be done in a manner that is seen as democratic, in a manner that is fair to the people of Zimbabwe, in a manner that respects their wishes not something that is cooked up to accommodate the political elite,” Annan told Reuters in an interview.

Additional reporting by Muchena Zigomo in Pretoria and Jeremy Lovell in London; Writing by Paul Simao

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