The opposition MDC called the power-sharing deal "far short" of their expectations, even as Robert Mugabe called it a "new chapter" for Zimbabwe. Morgan Tsvangirai should be sworn in as prime minister by Feb. 11, according to regional mediators.
AFP - President Robert Mugabe voiced hope Tuesday of a "new chapter" in Zimbabwe after a regional summit on a long-stalled unity government but the opposition said the proposals were below its expectations.
"We hope that this will open a up a new chapter in our political relations in the country and in structures of government," Mugabe said in Harare after arriving from the emergency summit held in the South African capital Pretoria.
The 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) gave Mugabe and rival Morgan Tsvangirai until mid-February to form a unity government but did not spell out what steps it would take if they did not meet the deadline.
"The prime minister and the deputy prime ministers shall be sworn in by 11 February," the SADC said after the marathon meeting, which wound up early Tuesday.
"The ministers and deputy ministers shall be sworn in on 13th February which will conclude the process of the formation of the inclusive government," it said.
A South African source said no sanctions were being considered for the time being against Mugabe's regime if it failed to meet the deadline.
Mugabe has seen his reputation plummet from an African liberation hero to a despot who has ruined his once prosperous country, currently battling the world's highest inflation rate and its worst ever cholera outbreak.
Despite serious reservations by the opposition Movement of Democratic Change (MDC), Mugabe appeared to take the proposals as a done deal.
"We agreed that an inclusive government should be formed. Dates have been stipulated for the various acts...starting with swearing in of the top people, the prime minister, deputy prime ministers and ministers," the 84-year-old leader said.
Mugabe and MDC chief Morgan Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing deal in September after the ruling party lost legislative elections for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980, but disagreements over the allocation of key ministries have stalled the formation of a unity government.
The European Union has just slapped fresh sanctions on Mugabe's rule in Zimbabwe. New US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is said to be concerned about the situation, and in an unusually hard-hitting attack, Nelson Mandela's wife Graca Machel said Mugabe had lost all legitimacy.
The pact has floundered over which party will control top public posts, including the home affairs ministry, which oversees the police which is accused of brutalising opposition supporters.
The MDC, meanwhile, appeared far from convinced that it would accept the fresh SADC proposals saying it fell "far short of our expectations".
"That was a tentative proposal that was given by SADC. The ultimate and final decision would have to be made by the party's national council on Friday," MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said.
Some of the MDC demands include equitable allocation of ministries, the release of detained activists and opposition members and clearly defined legislation on security.
As the political stalemate dragged, the UN World Health Organisation forecast a "worst case scenario" on the cholera front.
The outbreak, which started in August, has killed 2,971 people and infected 56,123 others, according to the latest figures gathered by the WHO released Tuesday.
"It's one of the worst and largest outbreaks of cholera," WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told AFP. "We're seeing the worst case scenario of 60,000 within reach."
The UN's health agency estimates that about half of Zimbabwe's population of some 12 million are at risk from cholera because of poor living conditions.
The worst case scenario for health experts involves one percent of a vulnerable population being infected, in Zimbabwe's case about 60,000 people, Chaib explained.
Date created : 2009-01-27