Mugabe: "Power sharing a humiliation"

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President Robert Mugabe has told his party that sharing power with rivals was a "humiliation" that would have to be accepted because it lost March elections.

Mugabe was shown on state television yesterday, addressing a meeting of top party leaders called to prepare for dividing the Cabinet among his ZANU-PF and two opposition factions as stipulated in a deal signed Monday. Mugabe loyalists will lose Cabinet seats to make room for the opposition.

"If only we had not blundered in the March ... elections we wouldn't be facing this humiliation," Mugabe said. "This is what we have to deal with."

While Mugabe's assessment was hardly gracious, it was an indication he would not abandon the deal, and should help calm fears his agreement to cede some power for the first time in 28 years will founder. Long-simmering and bitter differences as well as the nation's economic collapse have put the deal under intense pressure.

Mugabe aide Patrick Chinamasa told state TV the three parties involved will meet today and could have a Cabinet by the end of the day. The meeting on allotting Cabinet posts had been expected on Tuesday, but was delayed while Mugabe's party met on its own.

Earlier yesterday, state media had quoted Chinamasa as saying key aspects of the power-sharing deal would not go into effect until next month.

Zimbabwe's constitution needs to be changed to create the post of prime minister, which is to be filled by main Mugabe rival Morgan Tsvangirai. Under the power-sharing deal, Mugabe remains president.

"These amendments would be tabled before parliament when it opens next month," Chinamasa told the government-controlled Herald newspaper, saying there will be no move to open parliament before October 14 as originally planned.

It was unclear when the new government would be sworn in. Tsvangirai and the Cabinet might begin work without a formal swearing in, pending the constitutional amendments.

Mugabe, 84, has been in power since independence in 1980 and went from being praised as a liberator who freed the former British colony from minority white rule to being vilified as an autocrat. He and Tsvangirai, 56, have been enemies for a decade, and Tsvangirai has been jailed, beaten, tortured and tried for treason — charges that were dismissed in court.

The power-sharing deal has been criticized privately by some members of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, who are unhappy that it leaves Mugabe as president and head of the government. They fear Mugabe will exploit that, especially by playing on tensions between the two opposition groups.

The agreement provides for 31 ministers — 15 from Mugabe's party, 13 from Tsvangirai's and three from faction leader Arthur Mutambara's.

Continued political delay means only more time before dire economic problems can be addressed. A resurgence of violence, though, seemed unlikely. The country has been largely calm since June, and both Mugabe and his rivals say they want the agreement to work.

Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, said delays were worrying.

"Clearly there is anxiety in the country," Chamisa told The Associated Press. "People would want to see movement in terms of the realization of the actual deal. As the MDC, we want to urgently respond to the desperate and dire situation Zimbabweans find themselves in."

But George Charamba, Mugabe's spokesman, told the AP there was no cause for worry. He spent yesterday at his farm outside Harare while Mugabe addressed a meeting of top party officials in Harare in preparation for further talks with the other parties.

"If I was worried, I would have been in Harare," Charamba said.

Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation rate even by the official figure of at 11 million per cent, and independent economists put it much higher. Food and other basics are scare, and aid agencies say more and more Zimbabweans are going hungry.

The international Red Cross said Wednesday its trucks would leave warehouses in the main Zimbabwe cities of Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare, carrying maize, beans and cooking oil for some 24,000 needy Zimbabweans. More shipments will follow in coming months.

The nation's central bank put a new 1,000 Zimbabwe dollar note into circulation Wednesday, an acknowledgment of inflation's effect on the buying power of the 500 Zimbabwe note that had been the largest denomination.

Central bank governor Gideon Gono, who has been struggling to address the financial crisis, told The Herald the political settlement gave him hope.

Mugabe's critics say his policies — including his orders in 2000 that white-owned farms be seized and given to blacks — led to the economic collapse. Mugabe blames Western sanctions imposed because of his poor human rights record, saying they have led investors and aid agencies to avoid Zimbabwe.