Confusion as Zimbabwe opposition disowns deal

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe's opposition today angrily rejected claims by southern African leaders that it had agreed to a unity government, accusing the mediators of siding with Robert Mugabe.

South Africa's president Kgalema Motlanthe emerged from the emergency summit of the 15-nation SADC grouping to say that "all parties" had agreed to a new government which would be formed next month.

However, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change said the summit "had fallen far short of expectations" and rejected Mr Motlanthe's claim.

"It was our expectation that SADC would be... beyond reproach. Regrettably once again we note that Mr Mugabe was allowed to sit in during the closed session," the party said in a statement. "Mugabe has been unfairly allowed to be a judge in his own cause."

Zimbabwe has been without a legitimate government since last March, a period during which the country has been convulsed by an economic collapse and a cholera crisis that has now killed more than 3,000 people.

The summit in Pretoria was the fifth attempt to break the impasse between Mr Mugabe's ruling party and the opposition since a power sharing deal was first signed last September.

The MDC - which won a greater share of the vote in elections last March - is demanding an equal say in the new government and a halt to abductions and intimidation of its members.

After agreeing to power-sharing, Mr Mugabe has attempted to coerce the opposition into accepting a junior role and leaving his control of the security apparatus intact.

SADC said it had agreed that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai should be sworn in as prime minister by 11 February.

The MDC which saw scores of its members abducted and murdered during post-election violence last year has said it will make a final decision on its response to the summit on Friday. Mr Mugabe has insisted that he will go ahead and form a government with or without the opposition.

Western governments have called for the 83-year-old to step down, while the US has said it no longer backs a unity government.

However, regional leaders refuse to put any meaningful pressure on the Mugabe regime and have instead concentrated on pushing the MDC to compromise.

The power sharing deal was seen as a last chance to save the formerly prosperous country from the economic abyss. International donors are standing by with billions of dollars in emergency aid but will not release those funds until the notoriously corrupt Mugabe regime stands aside.

Nearly half the population are in need of food aid and inflation in the country has moved into the sextillions - evidence of the fastest peacetime economic collapse in history. Human rights groups have called on the International Criminal Court to investigate members of the ruling party for crimes against humanity.