Mbeki back in Harare for new talks

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been helping to mediate the political crisis in Zimbabwe, is back in Harare where he is expected to hold fresh power sharing talks with majority and opposition.



HARARE, Aug 9, (Reuters) - South African President Thabo Mbeki arrived in Zimbabwe on Saturday to mediate power-sharing talks between the ruling party and opposition amid growing optimism over an agreement.


Media reports have said Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai could secure a deal at a meeting on Sunday.


Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba said earlier talks between ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had reached a milestone, but he declined to comment on whether a power-sharing deal was imminent.


The talks began more than two weeks ago to resolve a crisis that came to a head after the 84-year-old Mugabe was re-elected in a widely condemned June poll boycotted by the opposition.


Mugabe, in power since 1980, welcomed Mbeki at the airport and they drove off together to a Harare hotel, officials said.


It is still not clear if Mbeki will meet with Mugabe and Tsvangirai individually or hold three-way discussions.


Mugabe said on Thursday the talks were going well but dismissed as nonsense media reports about a draft agreement under which Tsvangirai would run the country as prime minister while Mugabe would become ceremonial president.


The two sides are under heavy pressure to resolve a deepening crisis that has ruined the once prosperous economy and flooded neighbouring states with millions of refugees.






South Africa's Business Day newspaper, citing unnamed sources, has reported that Mugabe and Tsvangirai would hold make-or-break talks to finalise a deal in Harare on Sunday.


Business Day said it was understood the two men were not "too far apart", though the central issues remain unresolved.


Any deal would require a green light from security and military chiefs, powerful figures with wide sway over Mugabe who want to make sure they are not vulnerable to international prosecution when the political dust settles, analysts say.


Should an agreement be reached, it could take at least two weeks to convene parliament and push through expected constitutional changes creating new government posts and implement other aspects of the deal, analysts say.


Helping to secure a settlement before he hosts an Aug. 16 summit in South Africa of regional leaders he has represented in the mediation could be a political coup for Mbeki.


Mbeki has come under intense criticism at home and abroad for not taking a tough line with Mugabe, a policy he argues would only backfire and deepen tensions.

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