Mugabe heckled while opening parliament

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe was heckled and booed by opposition MPs as he opened a new session of parliament amid the continuing crisis over disputed elections.

The unprecedented show of defiance by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change who now command a majority of seats in parliament was broadcast live on television. Opposition MPs had earlier threatened to boycott the ceremony altogether; instead they thronged the House of Assembly before the arrival of the 84 year old leader in an open topped vintage Rolls Royce escorted by mounted police.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said his party decided to enter Parliament to deliver a petition disputing the President's authority to open parliament following his defeat in elections on March 29. The party later said three of its 100 MPs had been arrested on trumped up charges of political violence.

The jeering started when Mr Mugabe walked into the assembly and his political opponents refused to stand as he proceeded to take his high seat.

There was more humiliation for Mr Mugabe as his opponents changed and sang "Zanu yaora" which translates as "Zanu is rotten", drowning out much of his speech which was broadcast live on national television and radio.

In a petition delivered to Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma and deputy president Joyce Mujuru, the MDC MPs said the Zanu leader had no right to be opening Parliament while talks on ending the political crisis had not concluded.

But the dialogue being mediated by South African president Thabo Mbeki appears close to dead and buried as MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has vowed not to sign a proposed deal in which he would play a subservient role to Mr Mugabe. Mr Tsvangirai's key negotiator at the dialogue, Elton Mangoma, was also arrested by police yesterday, effectively dashing any hopes that meaningful talks would resume.

Mr Mbeki was due to visit Zimbabwe this week to urge Mr Tsvangirai to sign the deal or face being left out of a new cabinet. But buoyed by the election of one of his MPs to the powerful post of Speaker of Parliament Mr Tsvangirai is unlikely to bow to the pressure.

"If I were this old man (Mugabe), the events of this week would have convinced me that at 84 years old, it's now time to ride into the sunset and never re-appear on the political scene again," said a less sympathetic ZANU PF MP , who declined to be named.

The ruling party MP said it will not be business as usual for Mr Mugabe in Parliament as there was a growing consensus that the country would never recover with him at the helm.

"Many of us (ruling party MPs) realise that fact and we will be aligning with the opposition," he added.

Fears abound that the intransigent Mr Mugabe might dissolve Parliament and call for fresh elections in which he would try to regain his majority through violence. Such a drastic undemocratic step can only plunge Zimbabwe into further meltdown.

All of Mr Tsvangirai's 100 MPs attended Parliament except Eliah Jembere who was dragged from the House of Aseembly and arrested on Monday ahead of voting for the Speaker. A smaller splinter faction of the MDC controls 10 seats while ZANU PF has 99. The last one is held by an independent.

Lovemore Moyo of the Tsvangirai camp won the post of Speaker after several of Mr Mugabe's MPs and those of the smaller splinter MDC faction rebelled and voted for Mr Moyo.

In his speech Mr Mugabe reiterated his hallmark condemnation of Britain for unleashing what he termed a "vicious onslaught" on Zimbabwe. He blamed Britain and the United States for imposing targeted sanctions which he claimed were responsible for his country's economic collapse. But such rhetoric did not impress many of the MPs who regard Mr Mugabe as the prime author of Zimbabwe's current penury.