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Opposition leader in Zimbabwe to revive power-sharing talks

Video by Alex DUVAL SMITH

Latest update : 2009-01-18

For the first time in more than two months, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has returned to Zimbabwe for power-sharing talks with President Robert Mugabe. Previous efforts stalled on the issue of a unity government.

AFP - Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Saturday returned to Zimbabwe for the first time in more than two months, ahead of new talks with President Robert Mugabe on reviving a power-sharing deal.

The leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) left Zimbabwe in November for a summit in Johannesburg, where regional leaders tried and failed to push the rivals into a compromise on forming a unity government.

Since then, he has travelled across Africa and Europe to build international support, while his country plunged deeper into crisis with a cholera epidemic raging unchecked and the economy disintegrating at a breath-taking pace.

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, along with his predecessor Thabo Mbeki and Mozambican leader Armando Emilio Guebuza, is now set to mediate new talks aimed at ending the political stalemate that followed last year's disputed elections.

"I hope the meeting will find a lasting solution to the crisis," Tsvangirai told reporters as he arrived in Harare on a flight from Johannesburg.

"The MDC will not be bulldozed into an agreement which does not meet the aspirations of the people of Zimbabwe," he added.

Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing deal with 84-year-old Mugabe more than four months ago, but the pact quickly stalled over disputes on how to form a unity government.

The deal envisages Mugabe remaining as president while Tsvangirai would take the new post of prime minister, but few details have been settled on how the two would share decision-making or control of key ministries.

Tsvangirai argues that he should hold more influence, after the MDC won a majority in parliament and he defeated Mugabe during a first-round presidential vote in March.

The result unleashed a brutal wave of political violence which has left more than 180 people dead, mostly MDC supporters, according to Amnesty International.

Citing the violence, Tsvangirai pulled out of a runoff, leaving Mugabe to declare a one-sided victory in June.

With the government in limbo, Zimbabwe's already shattered economy has plunged to new depths, exacerbating a humanitarian crisis that has left half the population dependent on food aid as a cholera epidemic sweeps the nation.

In July, Zimbabwe's already dizzying inflation was estimated at 231 million percent. The government has stopped releasing estimates, but outside experts say the figure has reached astronomical heights many multiples higher.

The most concrete measure of collapse came Friday when the central bank unveiled a 100 trillion dollar bill, just one week after releasing a series billion-dollar denominations that already have lost their value.

Government doctors and nurses have been on strike for months. Like other workers, they are demanding wages in foreign currency after their salaries were reduced to pittances.

Even if they return to work, public hospitals and clinics have few medicines or supplies, and struggle to even keep water and electricity running.

The United Nations warned Friday that prevention measures have not yet slowed the cholera epidemic, which has claimed more than 2,200 lives.

The opening of school has been delayed for two weeks after the government failed to find enough people willing accept paltry wages to grade last year's exams. Most teachers left their classrooms months ago to find new ways of eeking out a living.

The UN Children's Fund announced that it would give five million US dollars to try to lure doctors back to work and prop up the health system.

"More than ever before, all stakeholders must put children at the forefront of their collective agenda," UNICEF chief Ann Veneman said as she wrapped up a visit to Harare.

Date created : 2009-01-17