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Mugabe in deal with opposition faction: Mbeki

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe agreed a power-sharing deal with a breakaway opposition faction on Tuesday, but has yet to agree with main rival Morgan Tsvangirai, South African President Thabo Mbeki said.

Mbeki, mediating in talks to end the political and economic crisis paralyzing Zimbabwe, said negotiations had not broken down and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Tsvangirai was still considering his position.

“We have dealt with all the critical elements on which President Mugabe and Mutambara agree, but there’s disagreement with one element over which Morgan Tsvangirai has asked for more time to reflect,” Mbeki told reporters.

A senior official of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF told Reuters a deal had already been signed with Arthur Mutambara’s MDC faction, however, a spokesman for that group said it was untrue. Mbeki said he did not know whether the deal had actually been signed.

An agreement that sidelined Tsvangirai could make it even harder to ease the crisis, which is a threat to regional stability, and to get Western countries to lift sanctions on Mugabe’s government.

Talks on power-sharing began last month after Mugabe’s unopposed re-election in a vote that was condemned around the world and boycotted by Tsvangirai because of attacks on his supporters.

But three days of meetings in Harare have failed to reach an overall deal.

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“We, and the MDC headed by Mutambara have signed the agreement. Tsvangirai did not sign the agreement because he is basically trying to take us back, to renegotiate issues that we had already agreed on,” the ZANU-PF official told Reuters.

“We are proceeding, and the president (Mugabe) is going to form a government of national unity including members of the opposition.”

A spokesman for Mutambara’s faction of the MDC said it was untrue it had signed a deal with Mugabe’s party. He did not deny that an agreement had been reached.

The ZANU-PF official said Mugabe, in power since 1980, would form a national unity government and convene parliament next week.

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 heal the deep rift in the southern African country.

“Morgan Tsvangirai is the main opposition leader, and any agreement that doesn’t include his party will not work for the country. It actually just complicates issues,” said John Makumbe, a Mugabe critic and veteran commentator.

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Tsvangirai’s absence in a new government would be likely to keep investors cautious over a country facing economic ruin, with the world’s highest inflation of 2.2 million percent and chronic food and fuel shortages.

Nor is it likely to bring an end to Western sanctions targeting Mugabe’s government. Western countries had demanded a big role for Tsvangirai on the grounds that he won the first round of elections but pulled out of the run-off.

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Asked whether they would continue talks with Mugabe after his agreement with Mutambara, the MDC official said: “Yes, we remain committed to dialogue, but we want a fair power-sharing arrangement.”

“We will now have to go back to the people and explain our position. They can go ahead and form their government. We made our position clear, that this issue is now in the hands of the facilitator,” he added, referring to Mbeki.

Mbeki was expected to brief a weekend summit of the 14-nation regional grouping SADC on the talks. Mbeki dismisses criticism that he has been too soft on Mugabe.

The ZANU-PF official said Mugabe had not closed the door on more talks with Tsvangirai but the ruling party refused to be “held hostage”.

“The president has said they have not collapsed, and that is the position.”

(Additional reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe and Nelson Banya; Writing by Gordon Bell and Michael Georgy; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Matthew Jones)

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