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Mbeki upbeat on Zimbabwe talks

South African President insisted that talks in Pretoria aimed at building a power-sharing govt to resolve Zimbabwe's deadly political crisis were going well, despite reports of disagreements.

world Updated: Jul 29, 2008 20:44 IST

South African President Thabo Mbeki insisted on Tuesday that talks in Pretoria aimed at building a power-sharing government to resolve Zimbabwe's deadly political crisis were going well, despite reports of disagreements. The negotiations broke off on Monday. Opposition negotiators were unhappy with the government's insistence that Robert Mugabe remain president with rival Morgan Tsvangirai serving as one of several vice presidents, two officials close to the talks told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of a media blackout on coverage of the talks.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai had agreed last week to embark on the power-sharing talks as a way out of a political impasse four months after Zimbabwe's presidential election. Dozens have been killed and thousands forced from their homes in the violence that followed the disputed polls.

Talks between negotiators for the two leaders, mediated by Mbeki, began on last Thursday in the South African capital. But on Monday, chief negotiators Mugabe negotiators Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Social Welfare Minister Nicholas Goche abruptly flew back to Harare to consult with the president while Tsvangirai went to Pretoria to meet with his representatives, officials said in South Africa on condition of anonymity. "The negotiators are negotiating. They are continuing to meet. ... They are doing very well," Mbeki told reporters in Pretoria. Mbeki played down any problems and said the negotiations would adjourn for a few days to allow the leaders of the ruling party and opposition Movement for Democratic Change consult with their parties.

"They have not concluded; they will be adjourning shortly for a few days because they want to do back to Harare to go and consult with their principles about the work that is being done and then come back by the end of the week to resume the negotiations," he said. "But they are proceeding."

Mbeki said the two sides still intend to complete the talks by Aug. 4 _ two weeks after signing a memorandum of understanding _ as earlier promised.

"They are indeed determined to keep that commitment," he said. The two leaders are under mounting international pressure to find a way out of a crisis in a country already burdened by economic hardship.

Mugabe, 84, and his ruling ZANU-PF party have led the country since independence in 1984. But in the March elections, Tsvangirai won most votes and the opposition seized a majority in parliament for the first time since Mugabe took power.

However, elections officials said Tsvangirai did not win enough votes for outright victory. He pulled out of a June runoff against Mugabe, blaming the escalating state-sponsored violence against his supporters.

At least 120 opposition activists have been killed, thousands beaten and abducted, and tens of thousands of people driven from their homes with entire villages torched for backing the opposition, according to rights group and the opposition.

Mugabe ran alone and declared himself winner of an election widely discredited as a sham.

Tsvangirai has said any political settlement must recognize only his first-round victory. His camp has maintained that it would not consider any government with Mugabe as president. Mugabe _ Zimbabwe's only leader in 28 years _ has survived even his own party's attempts to oust him and insists he should head any power-sharing government.

There are fears that Mugabe could be trying to do to Tsvangirai what he did more than 20 years ago to his late foe Joshua Nkomo. The two men led rival guerrilla armies in the war to free the country of the ruling white-minority government. Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980.

When Nkomo refused to join Mugabe in a national unity government, Mugabe went to war against Nkomo's minority Ndebele people. Troops carried out a campaign of violence and terror that left an estimated 20,000 dead.

Nkomo, with his party in tatters and desperate to stop the killing, eventually signed on to a unity government that left him near-powerless.

Mugabe has become increasingly authoritarian in his bid to hold onto power amid deep discontent over the country's dire economic situation _ the result of eight years of government policies that have left Zimbabweans scrambling for food, medicine, fuel and water. Jobs are scarce, and inflation is the highest in the world.