Robert Mugabe has abandoned a negotiated solution to the Zimbabwean crisis at the behest of the generals who prop him up, sources have told The Independent.
The embattled President, 84, has set himself on a collision course with the opposition and international community after declaring he will open parliament next Tuesday despite his failure to agree a power-sharing deal. Zimbabwe's military chiefs, led by Constantine Chiwengwa, the head of the army, believe Mr Mugabe has already offered to cede "too much power" to the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in a deal now on the table, which Mr Tsvangirai has refused to sign.
Other senior figures in Mr Mugabe's inner circle, including the leader of the feared war veterans' militia, have demanded that the President makes no further concessions to Mr Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change, even it means the dialogue collapses completely.
Instead, they are pushing Mr Mugabe to dissolve parliament shortly after it resumes sitting next week. He could then order fresh elections in which the ruling Zanu-PF party could overturn the MDC's narrow majority through a campaign of terror similar to that deployed between the first and second round of presidential voting.
It is unlikely that Mr Mugabe would resort to that drastic a step. The MDC instead fears a campaign of targeted assassinations of its MPs, several of whom are said to be in hiding. This would force by-elections which the Zanu-PF regime would win through violence to regain Mr Mugabe's majority.
The ruling party controls 99 seats, Mr Tsvangirai 100, while a smaller faction of the MDC, led by the erratic Arthur Mutambara, controls 10. The remaining seat is held by an independent. Mr Mugabe only needs to regain seven seats to control parliament. He is already trying to woo opposition MPs with bribes.
In the deal now on offer, Mr Mugabe would retain executive control of the security services, while Mr Tsvangirai would be handed the task of repairing the economy and facing the humanitarian disaster created by the current regime.
"If President Mugabe goes ahead to convene parliament and appoint a new cabinet, it means he is proceeding to violate the conditions of the [memorandum of understanding] which means he may have abandoned the basis for the talks. But we don't know what his intentions are," Mr Tsvangirai said in Nairobi yesterday. "A violation of the MOU will have to be dealt with by the mediator," he added.
South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, the official mediator, also appears to have given up on a settlement. Instead, he has joined the Mugabe camp in trying to bully the opposition into accepting the deal.
The MDC leader told The Independent that a situation in which the prime minister was asked to take responsibility for certain ministries while other ministers reported directly to the president was untenable.
He described as "non-negotiable" his position that he should become executive head of government in charge of appointing the cabinet, chairing it and formulating and implementing government policy.