Zimbabwe talks under way, no deal yet

African leaders held lengthy discussions on a power-sharing deal between Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai at a regional summit in Johannesburg. South Africa's Thabo Mbeki hopes for a deal this weekend.


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Southern African leaders held lengthy discussions on Saturday on a power-sharing agreement to end Zimbabwe's post-election political crisis.

A diplomatic source close to the talks, which were seeking to bring together President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and the opposition MDC, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, said a deal had not yet been agreed on.

"It is highly unlikely that there will be anything today. We will see tomorrow," the diplomat said as summit proceedings in Johannesburg broke off for the day.

Leaders of the 14-member Southern African Development Community had discussed the draft agreement during a closed session of nearly five hours. Diplomats said both Mugabe and Tsvangirai had taken part.

Another diplomatic source close to the talks said progress had been made, and that an agreement could be signed soon.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, chief mediator in the Zimbabwe talks, said millions of Zimbabweans were awaiting a positive outcome "with great expectations and high hopes".

Mbeki, who met participants in the talks on Friday, has been widely criticised for not taking a tough line with Mugabe. He would score a political coup if an agreement were reached during the meeting.

MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti, asked how optimistic he was that the talks would succeed, replied: "Fifty-fifty."


Botswana President Seretse Khama Ian Khama's decision to boycott the summit was a sign of growing pressure from regional leaders on both the MDC and ZANU-PF.

All Zimbabwe's neighbours fear the consequences if its political stalemate and economic decline lead to total meltdown.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, recovering from a stroke in France, said in a statement read on his behalf that events in  Zimbabwe were "a serious blot on the culture of democracy in our sub-region".

Millions of Zimbabweans have fled across the borders to escape the world's highest inflation rate -- over 2 million percent -- as well as massive unemployment and shortages of food and fuel.

Power-sharing negotiations began last month after Mugabe's was re-elected unopposed in June, in a vote condemned throughout the world and boycotted by Tsvangirai because of attacks on his supporters.

Tsvangirai has said Zimbabwe's post-election government should be based on the result of the first-round presidential election on March 29, which he won but without an absolute  majority.

Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, leader of a breakaway MDC faction, held three days of marathon discussions earlier this week without reaching a deal.

The South African labour federation COSATU held a protest at the start of the SADC summit. Demonstrators carried placards reading "SADC stop Mugabe's madness" and "Zimbabwe bleeds while SADC sleeps".

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