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Morgan Tsvangirai: 'I will have to trust Mugabe'

Zimbabwe's prime minister-to-be talks exclusively to the <i>IoS</i>

Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, due to become Prime Minister under a compromise deal with his old adversary, Robert Mugabe, has defended the agreement. He says he has no choice but to trust the man who presided over the deaths and torture of hundreds of his supporters.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent on Sunday, Mr Tsvangirai said: "When you negotiate, you ought to have faith and confidence in each other. Otherwise, there is no point in negotiating, because you are bound to fail. I am therefore giving him [Mr Mugabe] the benefit of the doubt."

Last week, after months of pressure from President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa as mediator, Mr Tsvangirai agreed to work with his arch-enemy under a power-sharing deal that they are due to sign tomorrow. "My vision is for transformation and rebirth of this country," he told the IoS. "I wouldn't have agreed to be part of this deal if it was an inadequate platform to achieve that vision."

Since he founded the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) nine years ago, creating the first effective opposition to Mr Mugabe since independence in 1980, Mr Tsvangirai, 56, has been bitter rivals with the 84-year-old President, who has derided him as an "ignoramus", "an uneducated tea-boy", a "British poodle" and "chematama" (the one with a fat face). Yet they are now being forced to share power, despite Mr Tsvangirai's insistence that he would not agree to Mr Mugabe's position being anything but ceremonial, and the older man's vow that the opposition would "never" govern.

Earlier this year, after the MDC defeated the ruling Zanu-PF party in parliamentary elections and Mr Tsvangirai came out ahead in the first round of the presidential poll, Mr Mugabe unleashed a wave of violence against the opposition. The monitoring group Human Rights Watch said Zanu-PF and its allies had been implicated in at least 163 killings and the beating and torture of more than 5,000 people. Mr Mugabe claimed victory in the second round after his opponent withdrew to avoid exposing his supporters to further violence, but international pressure, and the collapse of Zimbabwe's economy, forced him to the negotiating table.

Both sides have agreed that details of the deal will not be disclosed until tomorrow, but it has emerged that Mr Mugabe will remain as President and chair the cabinet. Mr Tsvangirai will become Prime Minister and chair a "council of ministers" tasked with debating and recommending policy initiatives to cabinet. According to David Coltart, an MDC senator, Mr Mugabe will have "greatly reduced powers to those he enjoys today", while Mr Tsvangirai will have "substantial", though not "absolute" power.

The complex power-sharing arrangement has aroused doubts among some of Mr Tsvangirai's main allies, such as Dr Lovemore Madhuku, chair of the non-governmental National Constitutional Assembly. He does not believe Mr Mugabe has shed his tyrannical tendencies. He called the deal "more of a capitulation by the MDC than by Zanu-PF". Dr Madhuku, a law lecturer, added: "The fact that Mugabe remains as head of state with substantial powers means the MDC will be co-opted as a junior partner."

The MDC leader disagreed, saying it gave him enough leeway to push through his agenda of reform. But international donors are unlikely to provide the money needed to salvage Zimbabwe's economy unless Mr Tsvangirai is seen to exercise real control. The two sides are due to share out ministries during talks this weekend.