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Mbeki meets with rival leaders to rescue power-sharing deal

South African President Thabo Mbeki held talks with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in a bid to salvage a power-sharing agreement negotiated last month.

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Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his main political rival met Tuesday with former South African leader Thabo Mbeki in a last-ditch bid to save a flagging power-sharing deal.

Mbeki brokered the agreement reached four weeks ago that called for the creation of a unity government to end months of deadly political turmoil and to rescue the nation from economic ruin.

But opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has threatened to pull out of the deal after Mugabe last weekend announced he would give his own party the most important posts in cabinet.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has called on Mbeki to find a way to break the impasse, saying that Mugabe violated the spirit of the deal by giving himself control of the army, police and other security agencies.

Tsvangirai and Mugabe made no remarks as they entered the building, and four hours later they remained inside with no indication of how their meetings had progressed.

Patrick Chinamasa, the lead negotiator for Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, said in the state-run Herald newspaper they remained committed to the talks, but insisted the only post up for discussion was the finance ministry.

"As far as we are concerned, the only contention is the ministry of finance. We hope the facilitator will come up with fresh ideas," he said.

"The country has been drifting for the past six months. We cannot continue drifting," he added.

The talks began as Zimbabwe's parliament resumed sitting Tuesday, with Mugabe's ZANU-PF in the minority for the first time since independence in 1980.

Parliament will have to consider a constitutional amendment to implement the power-sharing agreement, which allows 84-year-old Mugabe to remain as president while opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai takes the new post of prime minister.

The entire deal has hit the rocks after Mugabe's announcement on the cabinet, which drew sharp condemnation and a threat of a fresh sanctions from the European Union.

Tsvangirai's MDC won a majority in parliament in March elections, but the two leaders were forced into a run-off in the presidential race.

Although Tsvangirai came out ahead in the first round, he pulled out of the June run-off, citing political violence that left more than 100 of his supporters dead.

South Africa's foreign ministry said talks on forming a cabinet needed to move more quickly.

"We believe that the current socio-economic humanitarian situation demands... the leadership of Zimbabwe to move with greater speed," said Ayanda Ntsaluba, director general of the foreign ministry in Pretoria.

But analysts warned Mbeki would find his position as mediator weakened after his own party forced him to resign as South Africa's president last month, just days after he clinched the deal in Zimbabwe.

"I don't think that our former president really has any leverage over Mugabe, which is why Mugabe proceeded to nominate his cabinet ministers before he even got there to mediate," said Moeletsi Mbeki, the often critical brother of the former leader who works with the South African Institute of International Affairs.

While the rival parties are bickering, Zimbabwe's people face a daily struggle to survive against desperate food shortages and the highest inflation in the world, estimated at 231 million percent in July.

Once a regional breadbasket, the United Nations estimates that more than five million people -- nearly half the population -- need emergency food aid this year.

About 80 percent of the population is unemployed and living under the poverty line of two US dollars per day.

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