Mugabe turns back on power-sharing

Opposition ignored as another election looms

Robert Mugabe is to drop the pretence of power-sharing talks with the opposition in Zimbabwe and form a government without them this week. If he goes ahead, after gaining the backing of his ruling Zanu-PF party, it would end any immediate hope of outside help for the country, which is beset by a series of crises.

The defiant gesture comes shortly after he taunted neighbouring countries that they did not have the stomach to confront him, capping a week of increasingly wild statements from the self-styled liberator. He had told delegates to his party's conference on Friday that "Zimbabwe is mine", and accused Britain of wanting a war. Yesterday the 84-year-old closed the conference with no reference to the cholera epidemic, economic implosion or the abduction of opponents. Zimbabwe has now been without a legitimate government since March. The official death toll from cholera stands at more than 1,123, while inflation has moved into the sextillions and at least 41 opposition officials and rights activists have been abducted.

With an increasing number of international leaders calling on him to stand down, Mr Mugabe has sought to change the subject by railing against Western plots to topple his government. Attempts to implicate neighbouring Botswana in an alleged plan to provide military support to opposition forces were dismissed by the SADC regional bloc. He openly mocked the "courage" of neighbouring leaders, saying: "What would they come and do militarily here? All that they would come and really pose is a threat to our stability."

For months Mr Mugabe has tried to bully the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) into accepting a deal in which he would retain the major ministries, including defence and home affairs, as well as control of the central reserve bank and the security services. The MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, earlier warned the government to stop its intimidation campaign and release abductees, or the opposition would be forced to "suspend" power-sharing talks.

Now Mr Mugabe is signalling that he will rule without the opposition, disregarding the power-sharing deal he signed in mid-September. "We have waited for too long and our people are impatient and suffering," said a Zanu-PF official, speaking at the conference in Bindura, outside Harare. "With or without the MDC, the government will have to be formed."

There could even be fresh elections early in the new year, and Mr Mugabe warned his supporters to be ready to avoid the "disaster of March". Those elections saw Zanu-PF lose its parliamentary majority, while he finished a distant second to Mr Tsvangirai in the presidential vote. That setback was overturned at the end of June after a state-sponsored crackdown on the opposition saw thousands of MDC people beaten up and more than 150 murdered. Shortly before the run-off, the violence persuaded Mr Tsvangirai to withdraw from the ballot.

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